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 many as 1,200 people living around the forests of coastal Kenya and Tanzania have turned to butterfly farming to make a living. Many of them were once loggers who now defend the forest.
Three butterfly-farming initiatives aim to conserve forests while generating sustainable incomes for local communities by raising and selling pupae to research institutes and butterfly houses in Europe and Turkey.
The most successful of the initiatives is helping to conserve the 420 square-kilometer (162 square-mile) Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve in Kilifi county, Kenya, the last large remnant of a forest that once stretched from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique.
By contrast, the two Tanzanian projects are currently challenged by a government ban on wildlife exports.
KILIFI COUNTY, Kenya — If 51-year-old Hillary Thoya were to choose a lucky number, it would surely be 5,000. That’s the amount, in Kenyan shillings, the logger and carpenter turned butterfly farmer paid to secure his freedom a decade ago. And it was the same amount that assured him his newfound venture could actually sustain his family at a time when he was considering giving up.
One afternoon in 2008, Thoya was arrested by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers inside Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve in Kenya’s Kilifi county, accused of illegally felling trees. Thoya wasn’t too concerned; he knew a small bribe would quickly secure his release and he could get back to the job of completing construction of a sunbed for a customer.
However, luck wasn’t on Thoya’s side. Earlier that month new forest officers had been dispatched to the region precisely to curb instances of bribery.
“As I was trying to negotiate for my freedom, the officer kept telling me ‘OK, OK, but let’s go discuss that in the office,’ and as soon as I got into their vehicle they drove me into the compound of a police station,” Thoya recalled.
He spent four days at the police station before his brother-in-law came to his rescue, coughing up a fine of 5,000 shillings ($50).
Thoya spent two more years dodging KFS officers in the forest before he finally stopped logging illegally and learned to farm butterflies instead, as part of the Kipepeo Butterfly Project. Today, Thoya is one of hundreds of butterfly farmers who are active champions for the protection of Arabuko-Sokoke forest.
With a smile on his face, he recently recounted the first big payment he received from his farming-group chair, which convinced him he’d made the right career move.
“I was wondering if I had made the wrong decision since I was earning approximately 500 [shillings, $5] a week. But when she sent me 5,000 on mobile money transfer I almost thought she had confused my payment with that of another farmer,” Thoya said.
Thoya’s story is common around the forests of coastal Kenya and Tanzania. Many residents, including Thoya, are members of the indigenous Mijikenda ethnic group. And like him, many have ditched illegal logging or hunting to participate in butterfly farming initiatives: Kipepeo Butterfly Project in Kenya or the Amani Butterfly Project or Zanzibar Butterfly Centre in Tanzania. As many as 1,200 farmers have participated in recent years, with Kipepeo, which is focused on Arabuko-Sokoke forest, carrying the largest number at 878.
During peak season, from March to September, Thoya doubled his luck and now earns up to 10,000 shillings each week.
Thoya said the work enabled him to set up a fish-selling business for his wife, who previously didn’t work outside the home. Together they’ve been able to educate their 10 children, some through vocational institutes.
The business of butterflies
At his family compound in Magangani village, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the Indian Ocean resort town of Watamu, Thoya sliced a rotting mango and sprinkled its juice on a net. He was preparing to trap his next batch of butterflies.
The current group, mostly variable diadems (Hypolimnas anthedon) in the caterpillar stage, was locked up in a netted cage outside Thoya’s house. He was waiting for them to transition into pupae so he could sell them to Kipepeo. From there they would be sent abroad to spend the rest of their lives in a butterfly house in the United Kingdom, perhaps, or Turkey.
Thoya said he wasn’t expecting much from the current batch; the brown-and-white variable diadems, rather plain by butterfly standards, sell for a mere 20 shillings (20 cents) a pupae. But he was optimistic that his next batch would include more colorful, and hence marketable, butterflies like flame-bordered charaxeses (Charaxes protoclea), stunners in black and crimson.
At the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve entrance, Thoya showed his pass to a forest officer, who signaled him to proceed into the forest.
Kipepeo is managed by the National Museums of Kenya and partners with other government agencies, including KFS and the Kenya Wildlife Service, and helps finance the farmers to start up.
“When I decided to venture into butterfly farming, I did not have any money. But after training, the project team gave me this catching net and constructed the rearing shed for me,” Thoya said as he configured his net into a funnel shape on a tree branch.
An unlucky white-and-black butterfly fell right into the net as its cohorts flitted off the branch and away. Thoya explained that the fermented mango juice attracts the butterflies, but once they feed on it the ethanol it contains makes them woozy and unable to fly.
After repeating the process on 10 trees, Thoya’s net was a scene of colorful butterflies. He was pleased by his luck: among the catch was an African swallowtail (Papilio dardanus), a.k.a. the flying handkerchief, one of the most highly priced species, at 80 shillings (80 cents) per pupae.
Thoya would bring it and the rest back home to live in a netted cage. With more luck, they would lay eggs on the orange plants inside. The eggs would hatch into caterpillars, and the caterpillars would transition to pupae he could sell to Kipepeo about three weeks after he’d trapped the parents in the forest.
“Initially I did not join because I was interested in conservation. I was just looking for an income-generating method that would not get me in trouble with the authorities,” Thoya said. “But eventually, as time went by, I realized that I can benefit from the forest and leave it intact for my children and grandchildren, who may want to benefit too.”
The farmers are divided into groups. Thoya belongs to the Magangani farming group, which is chaired by 43-year-old Mwaka Juma, the one who sent him his first lucky 5,000-shilling paycheck, a housewife turned butterfly farmer.
When Mongabay visited Juma at her house in Magangani village, she proudly showed off a sewing business she said she’d financed with butterfly money.
During the peak season, Thoya and the other farmers in the group hand over their pupae to Juma, who travels on Fridays and Mondays about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to Kipepeo in the town of Gede to sell her group’s produce.
Other chairpersons, like 36-year-old Dickson Mbogo of the Mkongani farmers’ group, have farther to travel. Mbogo and most of his group members live about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the butterfly center.
Mbogo, another former logger and charcoal trader, started farming butterflies in 2006. He said the venture helped him construct a permanent house and educate his two sisters.
“Whenever I walk back into the same forest without having to play hide-and-seek with forest officers I feel very good,” he told Mongabay. “And when I meet my former associates I try to dissuade them to stop cutting down those trees because they are putting their future generations at risk.”
Once the pupae reach Kipepeo headquarters, workers sort them according to species and health before sending them on their journey abroad. Kipepeo currently exports up to a million pupae annually to Turkey, the U.K. and Germany. According to Hussein Aden, Kipepeo’s manager, most of the butterflies are displayed in butterfly houses while some are used for research at universities and butterfly centers and others are fashioned into home décor.
The group sells colorful species like the silver-striped charaxes (Charaxes lasti) for a minimum of $2.50 a pupae, including shipping. Less colorful species like the African migrant (Catopsilia florella) sell for $1 a pupae.
According to Aden, the farmers’ collecting of wild butterflies doesn’t harm the populations, whose biggest threat is habitat loss. And maintaining a continuous supply of farm-raised butterflies would not be feasible, he said, because demand for particular species is irregular.
Butterflies as forest ambassadors
Butterfly farming is relatively new to the Mijikenda of coastal Kenya; their major traditional economic activities include fishing, farming and charcoal trading. According to Aden, Kipepeo was started in 1993 to provide an alternative and sustainable income for the 100,000 or so people living near Arabuko-Sokoke forest.
Arabuko-Sokoke is one of the only known habitats for the golden-rumped elephant shrew (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus), which sections of the local community consider a delicacy despite its being listed as endangered. About 300 butterfly species live there, out of the 871 found in Kenya.
Only 74 butterfly species, all with IUCN status of “least concern,” have been approved for farming. Customers wanting an endangered species like the Taita blue-banded swallowtail (Papilio desmondi teita) must make a special order, and the species is only available during the rainy season.
The newfound appreciation for butterflies and the forest they inhabit has spread beyond butterfly farmers, according to Aden. Since the project launched 25 years ago, he said, local communities have stopped viewing the forest as wasted farmland.
According to Nicholas Munyao, KFS’s coast region ecosystem conservator, the project is good for butterflies because it results in the protection of their habitats. And these, of course, are home to numerous other species in a variety of taxa.
“I would not say logging is not taking place in the forest,” Munyao said. “[But] it has gradually reduced, and you find that most of [the loggers] are not from the local community.”
Overtime, Kipepeo has expanded to include other forests, such as Kakamega in western Kenya, Taita Hills in the southwest, and Shimba Hills in the southeast.
To spread the conservation message among Kenyans and Tanzanians, the butterfly farming enterprises have set up butterfly houses similar to those buying their pupae. In Kenya, there’s Kipepeo’s in Gede and the Mombasa Butterfly House in Mombasa; both Tanzanian ventures, the Amani Butterfly Project in Shebomeza village and the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre on Zanzibar Island, have exhibits at their headquarters. Species on display include the red spot diadem (Hypolimnas usambara), a black-and-white butterfly with traces of yellow on its tail;the forest queen (Euxanthe wakefieldi), a brown butterfly with patches of sky blue; and Thoya’s favorite, the blue-spotted emperor (Charaxes cithaeron).
The initiatives’ success in promoting conservation has not gone unnoticed; in 2011 the Zanzibar Butterfly Centre, which aims to conserve Jozani Chakwa Bay National Park, received a SEED Award for Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Development from the U.N. And this fall Kipepeo hosted the 20thannual conference of the International Association of Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers, whose mission focuses heavily on butterfly conservation — the first time the conference was held in Africa.
Trouble in Tanzania
In addition to the successes, the butterfly projects have also faced challenges. In Kenya, difficulties include failing to meet the huge demand during the high season, and producing a surplus during the low seasons.
In Tanzania, though, the challenges are bigger, the biggest being the government’s banning of wildlife exports. First came a one-year ban in 2011, after alarming reports of animal smuggling the previous year. Then in 2016, the government issued a three-year ban to give it time to draft a permanent policy that would seal legal loopholes.
Amir Saidi, project manager at the Amani Butterfly Project, said the bans have slashed revenues and sent most of the 150 farmers Amani was supporting in search of alternative work.
“From 2003 to 2015 we were doing quite well,” he said. “With the ban in place we are [now] only relying on the butterfly house as a source of income, but you cannot compare the revenue generated from the butterfly house with that that was there when we were doing pupae exports.”
The Zanzibar Butterfly Centre has also ceased exporting and is now only running a butterfly house.
This March will mark the end of the three-year ban. By then Saidi said he hopes the government will have finished crafting a new export policy that will give consideration to butterfly farmers. Amani, he said, had proven beneficial in conserving forests in the East Usambara Mountains, home to a number of endemic species such as the critically endangered long-billed forest warbler (Artisornis moreaui). The ban curtailed the Amani project before staff could study how it affected the community’s use of the forest, Saidi said, but he had noticed positive changes.
Butterfly farmers speak up for the forest
Kenya’s deforestation problem is far bigger than what butterfly farming could ever address. The country lost more than 9 percent of its tree cover, equivalent to 3,100 square kilometers (almost 1,200 square miles) between 2001 and 2017, according to Global Forest Watch.
A scathing report released last April by a special task force that the environment ministry formed to investigate the country’s alarming loss of forest decried “rampant corruption and abuse of office” within KFS, resulting in widespread illegal logging.
The report led to more complaints, including allegations that a KFS officer was involved in an illegal logging racket operating in Arabuko-Sokoke. Before the release of the report, the community living near the forest had pushed for the officer’s transfer and the relocation of his office from the town of Kilifi, 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the forest, to nearby Gede, where Kipepeo is based, so the agency could keep a closer eye of the forest.
According to Abbas Shariff, chairman of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Dwellers Association, which promotes protection of the forest, such activism would not have been possible without the butterfly projects, which have helped the community see the importance of the forest.
“Unlike several years ago, we know that once you start messing with this forest, you are messing with our livelihood and that of our future generations,” Shariff said. “That’s why you see us dealing with anyone trying to mess us up.”
Banner image: A blue pansy (Junonia orithya), a species occasionally available through Kipepeo Butterfly Project. Image by yakovlev.alexey via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Former President Barack Obama and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry told a roomful of boys of color on Tuesday that they matter and urged them to make the world a better place.
Obama was in Oakland, California, to mark the fifth anniversary of My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative he started after the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The death of the African-American teen sparked protests over racial profiling.
The initiative was a call to communities to close opportunity gaps for boys of color, especially African-American, Latino and Native American boys, Obama said to roughly 100 boys attending the alliance’s first national gathering. The My Brother’s Keeper Alliance is part of the Obama Foundation.
“We had to be able to say to them, ‘you matter, we care about you, we believe in you and we are going to make sure that you have the opportunities and chances to move forward just like everybody else’,” Obama said.
Obama, who left office in 2017, was joined by basketball star Curry. The men spoke for about an hour, answering questions from the audience and joking around. They talked about lacking confidence or being aimless as teens.
Obama praised single mothers, including his own. He advised the boys to look for a mentor, and to find opportunities to guide others.
Curry joined the former president in praising the value of team-work.
“What we do on the court and the joy that comes out of that is second to none,” he said, “because nothing great is done by yourself.”
The former president cracked up the audience, and Curry, when asked a question about being a man. He said that being a man is about being a good person, someone who is responsible, reliable, hard-working and compassionate. Being a man, he said, is not about life as portrayed in some rap or hip-hop music.
“If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking,” he said to applause. “‘Cause I’ve got one woman who I’m very happy with. And she’s a strong woman.”
The first meeting of what would later become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took place in 1905 in Fort Erie near Niagara Falls, Canada. Legendary thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois attended.
Although the social justice movement for the advancement of Black Americans was initially named the Niagara Movement, based on that first meeting in Canada, there was no mention of Black Canadians at this historic meeting.
The story of this meeting helps to demonstrate the ongoing invisibility of Black Canadians both within Canada, across North America and internationally.
Given the strong geographical connection between Canada and the U.S., it is reasonable to question why Black Canadians are missing from the Niagara Movement’s historical narrative.
Their absence in this history highlights the erasure of the contributions of Indigenous, Black people and other racialized peoples in Canada. This Canadian historical narrative, as Canadian sociologist Rinaldo Walcott suggests, has effectively “invisibilized” the Black presence in Canada.
In his book, Black Like Who?, Walcott speculates that the NAACP disallowed Black Canadians from attending this first meeting, despite their attempts to engage in dialogue with the organizers. Walcott writes that there were Black people in Canada who had both heard of and wanted to participate in the movement. However, he believes they were not welcomed.
Many know that Black Americans faced racist laws meant to segregate and oppress their existence, but many do not realize that Black Canadians also faced the hardship of anti-Black racism or the extent to which they suffered.
Cooper’s example helps to demonstrate the Canadian settler social conditions where Black people are assumed to be guilty.
The urgent need for a social justice movement
Black people in both Canada and the United States have encountered, and continue to face, a white settler terrain that loathes Blackness. After the Civil War, the United States Congress passed laws to support newly freed African-Americans but in the decades that followed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that set back those efforts.
By 1905, the need for a social movement for African-Americans was urgent.
The NAACP would become the vehicle to increase the social citizenship of Black people in America, especially during the early 1900s, when the race divide cut deep and afflicted the social, political and economic conditions of Black folk.
U.S. segregation laws in the 1900s made holding meetings in hotels impossible. Efforts to hold the original meeting in Buffalo, New York were thwarted by a social climate that was simmering with racial hostility toward Black Americans. In historical notes, Buffalo’s NAACP chapter president, Rev. Mark Blue, mentioned that Black American thinkers were accepted by the management of the Erie Hotel, near Niagara Falls, Ont.
Why were Black Americans but not Black Canadians allowed at this historic meeting? Who disallowed them to enter? Was it the hotel managers? Was it the organizers? Were they there but perhaps not mentioned?
Invisible in Canada
Canada often characterizes itself as a haven for Black slaves of the American South, but it does so without acknowledging its own participation in the Black slave industry.
A seldom mentioned historical fact is that Canada has its own Black slave history. Prior to abolition, Black enslavement existed in Canada until it was abolished throughout British North America.
Before the Niagara Movement, the Canadian region was the site of safer passage of Blacks fleeing slavery in the United States. Heroic figures like Harriet Tubman travelled through Niagara, Canada to bring slaves to a better life in northern North America. Yet, as Walcott points out, there is little or no reference to these facts in the historical commentaries on the Niagara Movement.
The lack of information about these histories is another form of anti-Black racism that exists in Canada. Canada has adopted a policy of erasure when it comes to acknowledging the history and contributions of its Indigenous and Black peoples.
Many scholars have asserted the importance of continued Black Canadian cultural studies. The power politics of whose work gets published, and where, and the absence of Black, Indigenous and racialized histories have reinforced Black invisibility.
It is necessary to critically engage on historical notions of Blackness and the “cross border political identification” of Black Canadians and Americans. By recognizing that both Black Canadian and American historical episodes of anti-Black racism are similar, we question how the white settler terrain has convinced mainstream society to believe one is worse than the other.
This is an updated version of a story originally published on Feb. 14, 2019. It clarifies the location of the Niagara Movement’s first meeting.
Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, center, and opposition presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, right, stand for a group photo with other candidates after signing an electoral peace accord at a conference center in Abuja, Nigeria, on Feb. 13, 2019. Nigeria is due to hold general elections on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Ask worshippers at St. Charles Catholic Church what they want most from Nigeria’s presidential election, and the answer is peace.
“We don’t want any more bloodshed in Nigeria,” said Everistus Suburu, vice chairman of the church in the northern state of Kano. “We are tired of (Islamic extremist group) Boko Haram.”
The presidential campaign has been largely free of the religious pressures that marked the 2015 vote when Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, defeated a Christian president from the south who had grown unpopular over his failure to control Boko Haram.
Now, with the leading candidates both northern Muslims, the Christian vote may be decisive in sweeping the incumbent from power for the second time in as many elections in Africa’s most populous country.
Nigeria’s 190 million people are divided almost equally between Christians mainly in the south and Muslims, like Buhari and his opponent Atiku Abubakar, who dominate in the north.
Across northern Nigeria, where street scenes are rich with Islamic customs and mosques, people of different faiths have co-existed over the decades, even joining forces in recent years to fight Boko Haram, which opposes a secular Nigeria.
Yet religious tensions remain even in an election that offers no clear sectarian choice, underscoring the pervasive influence of faith in Nigerian politics.
It’s not certain which of the top two candidates Christian voters will support, or if they will vote as a bloc.
In a bit of last-minute drama, the electoral commission decided early Saturday, just hours before polls were to open, to postpone the election until Feb. 23. The commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, cited “very trying circumstances” in logistics for the balloting, including bad weather affecting flights and fires at three commission offices in an apparent attempt “to sabotage our preparations.”
The delay has deepened the sense of mistrust and frustration some northern Christians feel toward Buhari’s government.
“The major problem we have in this country is that our leaders don’t have the fear of God,” said Murna Samuel, a schoolteacher in Yola, capital of the northern state of Adamawa, complaining about the postponement. “We are in a mess. It’s like they don’t want to do this election.”
Over the years, in an informal system known as zoning, Nigeria’s presidency has tended to rotate: A Muslim from the north is succeeded by a Christian from the south. This is widely seen as key to holding the country together.
The incumbent Buhari, a Muslim, took over from Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian. Now Buhari is seeking a second term, and his chief opponent is Muslim. The rotation to a Christian could come after a second term for Buhari.
Both Buhari and Abubakar have Christian running mates, in keeping with tradition. Without legal backing, however, the rotational system essentially relies on the goodwill of the politicians of the day.
“I am concerned,” said the Rev. Maurice Kwairanga of the Catholic Secretariat in Yola. “If the Muslims are given a platform where there are no checks and balances, they want to turn the whole country to Islam. If you want to build a chapel, the process you have to go through is very difficult. And even if you complete the process you may not get the chapel.”
In Yola and other northern towns, killings allegedly undertaken by Muslim herders from the Fulani ethnic group have alarmed Christians, especially when no suspects are arrested.
Abubakar is expected to perform well among Christian voters in some central states, such as Plateau and Kaduna, where the problem of marauding herders is severe, said Sylvester Akhaine, professor of political science at Lagos State University.
“The issue of herdsman disturbs the Christians,” said Godswill Sambo, a barman in Yola who is a member of the Lutheran Church. “For me, I will support a person who will bring peace to Nigeria and who is opposed to discrimination. You can see that Nigeria is disunited.”
Other Christians in Yola strongly support Abubakar, noting that his companies, including a major hotel and a university, employ hundreds of people across the religious divide.
“Atiku may be Muslim, but he has opened up more job opportunities for everyone in this place,” said Sunday Abraham, a spaghetti salesman with the Dangote Group. “At least there is a sign of job creation for all in him.”
In this April 10, 2018, file photo, Historic Jamestown staff archaeologist Lee McBee displays artifacts as he talks with visitors at the dig site of the Angelo slave house in Jamestown, Va. A few historical markers and records mention these early slaves, but there’s been scant research on their lives. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
The first Africans to arrive in English-controlled North America were so little noted by history that many are known today by only their first names: Antony and Isabella, Angelo, Frances and Peter.
Almost 400 years ago, they were kidnapped and forcibly sailed across the ocean aboard three slave ships — the San Juan Bautista, the White Lion and the Treasurer — and then sold into bondage in Virginia.
Now their descendants, along with historians and genealogists, are seeking recognition for a group of 20-some Africans they describe as critical to the survival of Jamestown, England’s first successful settlement in North America.
“We need to reclaim our history. We need to tell our story,” said Calvin Pearson, head of Project 1619 , which is named after the year those first Africans landed near what became Hampton, Virginia.
A few historical markers and records mention these early slaves, but there’s been scant research on their lives. President Barack Obama made the area where they arrived a national monument in 2011 to ensure that its history was not lost, and Pearson and others are working to learn more.
Before the slaves arrived, Jamestown was starving. “Basically all of those people were right off of the streets in England,” said Kathryn Knight, who in May will release a book titled “Unveiled – The Twenty & Odd: Documenting the First Africans in England’s America 1619-1625 and Beyond.”
Those colonists “didn’t know how to grow anything. They didn’t know how to manage livestock. They didn’t know anything about survival in Virginia,” Knight said. The Africans “saved them by being able to produce crops, by being able to manage the livestock. They kept them alive.”
The slaves’ arrival marked the beginning of the region’s fractured relationship with blacks. More than two centuries later, Virginia became home to the Confederate capital, and in the last week its governor has been pressured to resign for a racist photo that appeared on his page in a 1984 yearbook.
The new arrivals were Catholic and many spoke multiple languages, according to Ric Murphy, an author and descendant of John Gowan, one of the Angolan captives.
In this Feb. 1, 2019 photo, Mark Summers, a historian at Historic Jamestowne poses for a photo in Jamestown, Va. Summers leads tourists down paths once used by Angelo, also known as Angela, who was one of the first Africans to arrive in North America. Although there’s not much known about Angela, Summers said being able to show people where she lived and the grounds she walked is a spiritual experience for some. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
They came from a royal city and “were quite informed and educated, and several of them, based upon what they did in the latter part of their years, clearly were leaders in the community in one form or the other,” Murphy said. “Many of them became landowners, which is quite different from the false narrative of what an enslaved person was.”
In Jamestown, historian Mark Summers leads tourists down paths that Angelo — also known as Angela — walked after being sold to a Captain William Pierce.
Like many of that first group, her life is largely a mystery. In fact, her entire known biography “could probably fit on a 3×5 index card,” Summers said. But being able to show people where she lived and walked is a spiritual experience for some, he said.
For African-Americans, “this is the same thing as going to Plymouth Rock,” said Summers, who works at the Historic Jamestowne park. “Here’s a place where you can stand and say, ‘We set foot here, and we can still walk this ground.'”
The first Africans were among more than 300 taken out of the Ndongo region of Angola, a Portuguese colony of mostly Catholic Africans, on the San Juan Bautista bound for Mexico. That ship was attacked and plundered by the White Lion and the Treasurer, which together seized about 60 slaves. After stopping in the Caribbean and trading some of the slaves for provisions, the White Lion sailed for Virginia with its human cargo.
Englishman John Rolfe, who would later marry Pocahontas, documented the White Lion’s arrival at what was then called Point Comfort.
“He brought not anything but 20, and odd Negars, which the Governor and Cape Merchant bought for victualle,” Rolfe wrote in a letter in January 1620, meaning that the colony purchased the slaves with provisions.
A 1620 census showed 17 African women and 15 African men in Jamestown.
Although sold into servitude, many of those original Angolans fared better than the millions of African slaves who came to North America later, said John Thorton, a Boston University professor of African American studies and history.
“They had a better chance at a better future than almost anybody who followed them because they were the first,” Thorton said. “A lot of them ended up owning property, and they ended up owning slaves of their own.”
By intermingling with the English colonists, some had children who ended up passing for white and merging into early colonial society, Thorton said.
Some, like the Catholic John Pedro, met with tragedy, Pearson said.
Pedro “ended up owning quite a bit of land in Virginia. When the English Civil War broke out, it was Protestants versus Catholics,” Pearson said. Pedro moved to Maryland to live with other Catholics, but he was captured in a battle and executed.
Antony and Isabella became servants for a Captain William Tucker, gained their freedom around 1635 and started a homestead in Kent County, Virginia, Pearson said. Around 1623, they had a son named William Tucker who “became the first documented African child born in English-occupied North America.”
Descendants of Antony and Isabella are buried at a Hampton cemetery that has been in use since the 1600s, Pearson said.
Knight has a different interpretation of those early records, concluding that Frances gave birth to Peter first, making him the first African child born in Virginia.
Described in later records as a “Negro carpenter,” Peter married and received his freedom with the promise of paying 10,000 pounds of tobacco to his master around 1676. He made the last payment in 1682, Knight said.
Murphy, who wrote “Freedom Road: An American Family Saga from Jamestown to World War,” said it’s important for black people to know about these first Africans because it “helps us have more ownership of American history.”
Pearson, whose organization plans to honor the anniversary of the Africans’ arrival on Aug. 24, agrees.
“From here, we see the beginnings of the Africa imprint on what would become the United States of America. It’s worth remembering.”
In 2012, I was in the United Kingdom working on a follow-up project for my books “Black London” and “Black Victorians/Black Victoriana.” While looking through old British newspapers, I was astonished to read an 1893 announcement in The Daily Telegraph proclaiming Sarah E. Farro to be “the first negro novelist” with the publication of her novel “True Love.”
I wondered: who was this woman? And why didn’t we know about this reportedly groundbreaking novel?
The Daily Telegraph didn’t get it exactly right: We know now that Farro wasn’t the first African-American novelist. Nonetheless, she appears nowhere in the canon of African-American literature.
After doing more research, I soon realized that Farro had made her mark writing about white people, and that this may also be the reason her work was forgotten. Learning of a black woman whose race was documented, whose novel was published – but who disappeared in the historical record – can change how we think about African-American literature.
Farro joins a small club
Searches of American census records show that Sarah E. Farro was born in 1859 in Illinois to parents who moved to Chicago from the South. She had two younger sisters, and her race is given as “black” on the 1880 census.
Her novel, “True Love: A Story of English Domestic Life,” was published in 1891 by the Chicago publishing house Donohue & Henneberry. It was one of 58 books by Illinois women writers exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exhibition (World’s Fair) in 1893. Newspapers in the U.K. and the U.S. heralded the book. Toward the end of her life, in 1937, Farro was feted at a celebration of Chicago’s “outstanding race pioneers.” Apparently, she never wrote another novel.
“True Love” disappeared from the historical record, and for decades historians recognized only three other 19th-century novels written and published by African-Americans.
One other, “The Bondswoman’s Narrative,” was recently found in manuscript and published, even though the author, Hannah Crafts, is only circumstantially (although convincingly) identified. With my discovery, Farro becomes only the second known African-American woman novelist published in the 19th century. And she now joins William Wells Brown, Frances Harper, Harriet E. Wilson, and Frank J. Webb as the only African-American published novelists in the entire century.
When I returned to the U.S. from the U.K., I was able to track down only two copies of “True Love” in libraries – one at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago and the other at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – and headed to Chicago to read it. To briefly summarize: the novel tells the story of a man whose quest to marry his love, Janey, is thwarted by Janey’s selfish sister and mother. Generous and beloved Janey nurses her sister through a fever, only to catch it herself and die.
The eBay listing makes no mention of her race; nowhere except in early newspaper pieces is she identified as a black woman, so this important piece of history has remained invisible until now.
An unexpected subject matter?
The reason for “True Love’s” disappearance might be simple: It takes place in England, a place Farro probably never visited, and all of its characters are white.
As literary scholar Elizabeth McHenry has shown, 19th-century black women’s literary clubs, which catered to mostly middle-class members and aspirants, primarily read prominent white English and American authors, in addition to black political writers. It was natural, then, that when Farro took up her pen she emulated her stated favorite novelists: Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and Oliver Wendell Holmes – writers of popular fiction admired by black and white readers alike.
Had Farro’s role models been black female authors who had written novels about black women, she may have crafted a different kind of novel.
Today we assume that early African-American writers inevitably wrote about race, that 19th-century writers necessarily referred to experiences of slavery and struggle and that their access to literacy – let alone the Victorian literary canon – must have been limited. Finding Farro’s novel changes that. Because we didn’t realize that authors like Farro existed, we had limited our perspective on their work.
As McHenry writes, “the danger of privileging [slave narratives] is that we risk overlooking the many other forms of literary production that coexisted alongside [them].”
We have much to learn about what black women read, what they wrote, and for whom. In this case, it seems that many of Farro’s readers must have been white women.
The significance of not writing about race
Ironically, though Farro was first celebrated and brought to public attention precisely because of her race, she doesn’t fit the mold of familiar early African-American writers. Nor is she similar to those who have been revived and “rediscovered.” Perhaps the aforementioned Brown, Webb and Wilson were noticed and celebrated not just because of their race, but because they all wrote about race.
Farro’s novel, on the other hand, is a domestic romance that tends toward melodrama. Although she explicitly sets it in England, she also betrays her unfamiliarity with that country. For instance, she gives British incomes in dollars and mentions that a character wants his wedding to take place before Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, a Chicago publisher saw fit to bring out her book.
Sarah E. Farro’s rediscovered novel tells us that black women of her time read, discussed and emulated the works of people who were not like them. Farro lived in the North through the end of slavery, preceded the Great Migration, published a novel as an American Victorian and lived through – and past – the Harlem Renaissance.
Surely those writers owe her a debt of gratitude, just as we have an obligation to bring her back into the fold of African-American and women novelists and to think about how these discoveries change our views of the African-American experience.
Loving bravely is risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may ridicule you for doing so. That’s the kind of love I want to give this Valentine’s Day.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m gonna try something different. Something brave.
Brave, as in, “this-year-I-will-forgo-typical-expressions-of-love-and-instead-donate-to-her-favorite-cause” bravery.
No, that’s not what I’m planning. I’m just offering that as an example. Eschewing a gift for a donation is the kind of thing that you only do when you really know somebody well, because if you’re wrong, you will pay for it. (All the married men should be nodding their heads right now.)
That’s what I mean by brave. Something unexpected that shows how much you care, something that might seem reckless, but is, in fact, very meaningful.
I have some work to do in the bravery department. Holly and I have been married for five years now, and unfortunately, I set the bar pretty high when we got engaged.
A friend of mine was the worship director at a megachurch in the area, and his band was planning on covering Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love,” for their worship service, since they were doing a series on relationships. So he asked me in advance to write another rap for it and bust it out during the service. So I upped the ante, and with their permission ahead of time, I wrote the rap verse as my will-you-marry-me speech, and during the middle of the song, I jumped off the stage and came down to where Holly was sitting, got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me.
It was so romantic.
Afterwards, I got mad cool points for going to such a length to surprise her. Afterwards, everyone kept echoing the same sentiment: Man, that was so brave.
Far be it from me to revise, as my grandmother used to say, even a jot or a tittle from the Bible. However, if I were to bring any editorial changes to an iconic biblical passage, I would choose 1 Corinthians 13, and right after “love is patient, love is kind,” I would add a third clause: “Love is brave.”
‘Cause seriously … ladies dig bravery. And for good reason.
Think of great leading men in popular films:
• Cary Elwes throwing himself down the hill in The Princess Bride.
• Bruce Willis fighting the terrorists in Die Hard.
• Will Smith trying to express his feelings in Hitch.
These are characters who found themselves in unfamiliar territory, and against all odds, they chose to do something good to help someone else, and found themselves being stretched (or in Smith’s case, swollen and contorted) beyond capacity in the process.
These are universal themes, for sure, but the common element here is bravery: the massive chutzpah required to stare down adversity and do the right thing anyway. It’s the stuff heroes are made from.
It’s important, though, that we not get confused about what bravery is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Being brave, for example, is not the same thing as simply going against the flow.
Awhile back, I avoided seeing the last huge James Cameron blockbuster, mostly because I figured I already had a pretty good handle on how it ended (the boat sank), but also because I got tired of the hype. I just decided at some point that I’m going to be The Guy Who Never Saw Titanic, just to show up everyone else who thought it was so great.
The sad part is, I’m tempted to do the same with Avatar, even though I’ve read countless reviews and articles (including this one by UF’s Todd Burkes) that suggest that it’s a film experience worth having. It’s like I’d rather be the guy who didn’t see it, even if it means I miss out on seeing a great film.
Being contrarian is quite a marketable skill these days, because if you want to be a celebrity in today’s celebrity-saturated media marketplace, you have to do something to stand out from the rest of the pack. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to find a stance that is accepted as conventional wisdom, and then oppose it as vociferously as possible. This is why the Internet is full of people who oppose relatively normal things, like certain typefaces, or even lowercase i’s next to capital letters.
(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s ’cause you didn’t follow the link to the word “tittle” earlier. Go ahead, it’s not naughty or anything.)
This desire to stand out, in my opinion, is why former-NBA-journeyman-turned-culture-critic Paul Shirley recently penned a crude diatribe suggesting that Haitian citizens are culpable for their deplorable living conditions. Even though there are points he made that I agree with, I don’t think it was a particularly brave thing to say. He was looking to get a reaction, and he got one. People will accuse Shirley of many things, but loving too much is not one of them.
Loving bravely is not just taking an unpopular stance; it’s risking great personal cost to do good for someone, even when you know that others may, in fact, ridicule you for doing so. Obviously I’m not privy to all the details, but it seems to me that, by choosing to stand by her husband, Gayle Haggard chose to love bravely. It’s possible that Elin Nordegren Woods may be choosing similarly.
This is the truest essence of love, and as Christians we see it all over the Scriptures.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This idea of sacrificial love, of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves, is one of the foundational principles that underscore all the worldwide efforts at Christian evangelism. And evangelism, as we all know, takes on many form — some subtle, and some not so subtle. The best strategies are ones that require truth and vulnerability, but still are basic and doable.
I’m reminded of “The Best Stuff In the World Today Café,” a cool little ditty by Take 6 with a nifty analogy of evangelism imagined as a downtown restaurant:
Time for lunch, my stomach said
I left the office to get fed
I had dined at every place on Main
My appetite was ripe for change.
And there stood this old restaurant
I had never seen before
And a stranger in an apron
Came bursting through the door and said
‘Welcome to The Best Stuff In the World Today Cafe
We are all believers in a better way
We were served as customers not so long ago
Now we are all waiters, we thought you oughta know’
It’s a clever song, and given the abundance of vocal talent in Take 6, I could probably listen to them sing pages of HTML source code and still love it.
Still, I wonder … what would happen if we really tried this? What would happen if I really grabbed someone off the street on an average Sunday morning and told them, “I don’t care what you planned to do, you gotta try this Jesus thing?”
I don’t know what would happen.
And that’s why it’s such a scary proposition in real life. Maybe that person would undergo a dramatic, Paul-on-his-way-to-Damascus conversion to Christianity. Or, maybe that person would give me the stink eye and say, “Dude, get your hands off me.” That’s why it’s such an act of bravery to put yourself out there like that.
And whether we recognize it or not, this holiday that we celebrate every February 14th, the one that was seemingly invented by purveyors of greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and expensive chocolates … you know, Valentine’s Day?
Its origin is rooted not in empty sentiment, but in bravery.
• The name “Valentine” is derived from the Latin valens which means “worthy,” and which bears etymological resemblance to our English words “valor” and “valiant.”
• The holiday itself has roots in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, where it was known for centuries as the feast day of Saint Valentine
• All the romantic sentiment related to love and courtship that has been traditionally associated with this feast originated with works of art like Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth century Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) and Chaucer’s fourteenth century poem “Parliament of Foules”
• The name St. Valentine is actually an umbrella name for a number of martyred figures throughout church history, many of whom were known for various acts of kindness and bravery
• These acts include marrying and otherwise providing aid to Christians persecuted under the reign of emporer Claudius, and restoring the sight and hearing to the daughter of the jailer who subsequently imprisoned him
You put all that together, and it becomes evident that all of the sentimentality on display every year is just our society’s misguided yearning for a purer, less self-centered version of love than what we see in the movies, on television, and in gossip magazines.
It’s misguided because, sadly, we as a society keep returning to those same movies, TV shows, and gossip mags to inform our ideas of what true love looks like.
That’s why it’s incumbent on us as Christians to show, as Paul said, a more excellent way.
So this Valentine’s Day, I say be brave.
I can’t tell you what that act of bravery should be, because it’ll be different for all of us. Maybe it’ll mean being honest and really sharing feelings and issues that you would rather keep buried. Maybe it’s going out of your way to show your spouse that you love them, and doing so in the way that they really appreciate, rather than the way you happen to be good at.
Maybe it’s just stopping, out of the blue, just to say, “I love you.”
But whatever you decide, step on out there and do it.
And if it involves rapping a marriage proposal in the middle of a Sunday-morning worship service, don’t tell them I sent you.
There’s an old saying, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” In other words, before you give up, take matters into your own hands and try a little harder.
As a psychology researcher, I believe this adage applies to relationships, too. Before you let go, look for the “knots” that might save you from accidentally letting a great relationship slip from your grasp. Relationship science suggests that the problem is that people tend to overemphasize the negative and underappreciate the positive when looking at their romantic partners.
If you could build the perfect relationship, what would it look like? Perhaps more importantly, how does your current relationship stack up? Expectations for today’s relationships are higher than ever. Now that relationships are a choice, mediocrity isn’t acceptable. It’s all or nothing, and no one wants to settle.
The secret to avoiding settling seems simple: have high standards and demand only the very best. Researchers refer to people who are pickier than others and always want the absolute best possible option as maximizers. Their counterparts are satisficers – those satisfied once quality surpasses a minimum threshold of acceptability. For them, “good enough” is perfectly fine. As long as their relationship exceeds their predetermined benchmarks for “high quality,” satisficers are content.
Maximizer personalities will tend to exhaust all options and explore many possibilities to secure the flawless partner. You might think that sounds ideal, even noble, almost like common sense. But there are hidden downsides. Call it the myth of maximization, because the research reveals that maximizers report more regret and depression and feel threatened by others whom they perceive as doing better. Maximizers also experience lower self-esteem and less optimism, happiness and life satisfaction. And they prefer reversible decisions or outcomes that are not absolute or final.
See the problem? In long-term relationships, people tend to prefer more of a “‘til death do us part” approach rather than a “’til I find something better” tactic. Overall, the implication for your relationship is clear: The continuous pursuit of perfection could be fine for a car, but in your relationship it may result in failing to recognize the truly great relationship that’s right in front of you for what it is. Impossibly high standards can make an excellent relationship seem average.
You may also undervalue your relationship by being too quick to identify imperfections, notice the negatives and find problems. Blame what psychologists call the negativity bias, which is a tendency to pay attention to the bad or negative aspects of an experience.
In other words, when your relationship is going well, it doesn’t register. You take it for granted. But problems? They capture your attention. The bickering, insensitive comments, forgotten chores, the messes and the inconveniences – all stand out because they deviate from the easily overlooked happy status quo.
This tendency is so pronounced that when a relationship doesn’t have any major issues, research suggests that people inflate small problems into bigger ones. Rather than be thankful for the relative calm, people manufacture problems where none previously existed. You could be your own worst enemy without even realizing it.
Time to recalibrate. The key is separating the critical from the inconsequential in order to distinguish minor issues from real problems. Identifying the true dealbreakers will allow you to save your energy for real problems, and allow the minor stuff to simply fade away.
Beyond that list, there are certainly annoyances that can become dealbreakers in otherwise generally healthy relationships. And if your partner disrespects, hurts or abuses you, those are behaviors that shouldn’t be ignored and should rightly end your relationship.
In a follow-up study, researchers asked participants to consider both dealbreakers and dealmakers – that is, qualities that are especially appealing. When determining whether a relationship was viable, it turned out the dealbreakers carried more weight. The negativity bias strikes again. The fact that people tend to focus more on the breakers than the makers is further evidence that we’re not giving some aspects of our relationship enough credit.
What have you been missing in your relationship? Surely there are boxes that your partner checks that you’ve neglected to notice. Start giving credit where credit is due.
In fact, some studies suggest you should give your partner even more credit than she or he might deserve. Instead of being realistic, give your partner the benefit of the doubt, with an overly generous appraisal. Would you be lying to yourself? Sure, a little bit. But research shows that these types of positive illusions help the relationship by decreasing conflict while increasing satisfaction, love and trust.
Holding overly optimistic views of your partner convinces you of their value, which reflects well on you – you’re the one who has such a great partner, after all. Your rose-colored opinions also make your partner feel good and give them a good reputation to live up to. They won’t want to let you down so they’ll try to fulfill your positive prophecy. All of which benefits your relationship.
It’s time to stop being overly critical of your relationship. Instead find the knots, the parts of your relationship you’ve been taking for granted that will help you hold on. If you know where to look and what to appreciate, you may just realize there are a lot more reasons to happily hold onto your relationship than you thought.
The title page of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library/Creative Commons
Not long ago, Baylor historian Thomas Kidd published a short post at The Gospel Coalition blog on the anniversary of Phillis Wheatley’s death. He titled his piece “Phillis Wheatley: An Evangelical and the First Published African American Female Poet,” and concluded by saying that “Evangelicals, of all people, need to remember her today.”
In response, writer Jonathan Merritt tweeted: “Calling her an evangelical is, um, a bit weird.”
“Because you’re assigning her to a movement at a time when the movement wouldn’t have her. How are you defining evangelical?” Merritt replied. “If self-identification, did she? If denominational affiliation, was she?
“If you can’t answer the question,” Merritt concluded, “you might need to think on this some more.”
Merritt’s dig at Kidd’s expertise (Kidd has authored several books on evangelicalism) provoked other historians to join the fray, and we very quickly breached the outer limits of productive conversation.
The problem was one of definitions.
An undated portrait of Phillis Wheatley. Image photo of Creative Commons
In referring to Wheatley as an “evangelical,” Kidd, like many other historians of American religion, was using the term to describe 18th-century revivalist Christianity. Yet Kidd was also asserting that Wheatley matters especially to evangelicals today, presumably because she is one of them.
This is where things become contentious.
Does “evangelicalism” extend from Wheatley to modern day? Perhaps, if one considers evangelicalism primarily a theological tradition. But to many, evangelicalism has morphed into a politicized movement — essentially made up of white religious conservatives who vote Republican. To claim Wheatley as a progenitor of this movement is indeed rather odd.
This definitional debate has been simmering for some time, but it reached new heights after 2016 exit polls revealed that 81 percent of self-identified white evangelical voters supported Donald Trump.
Or did they?
Even before Trump secured the nomination, white evangelicals contested purported levels of evangelical support. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, insisted the word “evangelical” had become “almost meaningless.”
According to Moore, a big part of the problem was the media, who rely on self-identification: “Many of those who tell pollsters they are ‘evangelical’ may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes.” When the dust settled after the election, Moore said, the time would come “to make ‘evangelical’ great again.”
During the Republican National Convention, Kidd himself echoed these sentiments in The Washington Post. He expressed frustration with “time-strapped pollsters” who “just let people tell them that they are evangelicals, without probing what that means.”
Historian Thomas Kidd. Photo courtesy of Baylor University
Somehow, an entire generation of Americans had gotten “the wrong idea about evangelicalism” — a “pop culture” definition had usurped a proper historical and theological one, resulting in a large number of “supposed evangelicals” who had no clue about “the formal definition of ‘evangelical.’”
To be a real evangelical, in other words, one needed to fit the formal theological definition — preferably, the “Bebbington quadrilateral”: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism and activism. Other establishment evangelicals agreed. During the 2016 election, Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research and Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals teamed up to conduct a poll with the intention of disrupting two faulty notions: “That ‘evangelical’ means ‘white’ and that evangelicals are primarily defined by their politics.”
By defining evangelicalism by belief (and basing their model on Bebbington), they ended up with a much more diverse “evangelicalism.” Twenty-nine percent of whites end up in this category, along with 44 percent of African-Americans and 30 percent of Hispanics. (A poll by PRRI puts the percentage of evangelical Protestants who are white at only 64 percent).
It’s not hard to see how this might change our understanding of evangelicals today.
If the movement is far less white than generally assumed, it clearly cannot be primarily motivated by racism. Additionally, if evangelicalism is defined by a set of theological commitments, then one can find evangelicals the world over, and the significance of American nationalism to evangelical identity diminishes as well, for obvious reasons.
Stetzer and Anderson highlighted these racial dynamics by quoting Anthea Butler. In a speech at Fuller Seminary in 2015, the African-American scholar had complained that “Bible-believing black evangelicals” were too often ignored.
Butler, it seemed, was staking a claim on evangelicalism, and she wasn’t alone. Last August, a press release proclaimed that “evangelical women” had “hit pause” on the culture wars. Just who were these “evangelical women”? In addition to Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans, whose evangelical credentials are currently up for debate, many who signed were women of color — Brenda Salter McNeil, Latasha Morrison, Kathy Khang, Christina Edmondson.
“Evangelicals of color,” however, have an ambivalent relationship with evangelicalism. There is a reason why a recent LifeWay survey found that only 25 percent of African-Americans who ascribed to the four points of evangelical belief actually identified as evangelicals.
Anthea Butler. Courtesy photo
Black Christians have long resisted embracing the evangelical label because it is clear to them that there is more to evangelical identity than four statements of belief. In the words of Deidra Riggs, evangelicalism is a “white religious brand.”
It’s worth noting that Butler, in that same speech, went on to decry evangelicalism’s “problem of whiteness.” She called out white evangelical scholars’ inability or unwillingness to confront that problem. Bebbington’s four points, Butler asserted, are in fact culturally and racially specific.
Moreover, a recent LifeWay survey found that fewer than half of those who self-identify as evangelicals “strongly agree” with core evangelical beliefs. Many “evangelicals,” according to another LifeWay Research survey, in fact hold heretical beliefs.
When a large number of people who self-identify as evangelicals fail to ascribe to what some scholars have dictated to be the essential tenets of evangelicalism, does that mean that they are not actually evangelicals? Or does it suggest that something else has come to define evangelicalism?
Some evangelicals might see this erosion of theology and the politicization of evangelicalism as an abandonment of an illustrious heritage, but one cannot wish away the movement that evangelicalism has become.
If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?
In my own research, I examine evangelicalism as a culture of consumption, a web of interlinking personal, institutional and distribution networks. In this evangelicalism, James Dobson, Joshua Harris and the “Duck Dynasty” clan play a larger role than Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield — or Phillis Wheatley.
An engraving of Phillis Wheatley. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
Which doesn’t mean Wheatley wasn’t an evangelical. Or isn’t one, according to another definition.
All of these leave us asking: Is evangelicalism a theological category? A consumer culture? A white religious brand? A diverse, global movement?
What if the answer is “all of the above”?
Here I find it useful to borrow a page from Benedict Anderson’s scholarship and suggest that we consider evangelicalism as an imagined religious community.
There are, in fact, many evangelicalisms and each has a different center and different boundaries.
The primary question, then, isn’t which definition is “correct,” but rather which imaginings have more power to shape other people’s imaginings. When LifeWay’s stores decide you are no longer an evangelical, it matters. At least if you want to sell books. When the evangelical left claims the mantle of evangelicalism to call for an end to the culture wars, it matters rhetorically. But beyond that? When politicians claim to have the backing of evangelical voters, it matters. At least to some.
This shift in focus demands that scholars, too, examine our own positionality. How have scholars imagined evangelicalism, and to what end? Which imaginings have wielded power in the academy, and why?
Rather than seeking to impose one definition over all others, we should be more attentive to how evangelicalism has always been a dynamic, fluid movement, or series of movements imagined and maintained through networks, alliances and authority structures, each drawing and enforcing the boundaries of “evangelicalism” for varying purposes.
And we will be forced to contend with how we, too, are implicated in this imaginative process.
(Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a history professor at Calvin College. This op-ed is adapted from a presentation she gave at a joint session of the American Historical Association and the Conference on Faith and History. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)
At the time Virginia’s future political leaders put on blackface in college for fun, Dan Aykroyd wore it too — in the hit 1983 comedy “Trading Places.”
Sports announcers of that time often described Boston Celtics player Larry Bird, who is white, as “smart” while describing his black NBA opponents as athletically gifted.
Such racial insensitivities ran rampant in popular culture during the 1980s, the era in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, have admitted to wearing blackface as they mimicked pop singer Michael Jackson and rapper Kurtis Blow, respectively.
Meanwhile, Chicago elected its first black mayor, Michael Jackson made music history with his “Thriller” album, U.S. college students protested against South Africa’s racist system of apartheid and the stereotype-smashing sitcom “The Cosby Show” debuted on network television.
It would be another 10 years before the rise of multiculturalism began to change America’s racial sensibilities, in part because intellectuals and journalists of color were better positioned to successfully challenge racist images, and Hollywood began to listen.
“We are in a stronger position to educate the American public about symbols and cultural practices that are harmful today than we were in the 1980s,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.
During the ’80s, college faculties and student bodies were less diverse, Gates said. Some scholars who entered college during the 1960s had yet to take on roles in which mainstream culture would heed their cultural critiques, he said.
At the time Northam and Herring put on black makeup, Hollywood and popular culture still sent messages that racial stereotypes and racist imagery were comical and harmless, despite pleas from civil rights groups and black newspapers.
Herring was a 19-year-old University of Virginia student when he wore brown makeup and a wig to look like rapper Kurtis Blow at a 1980 party. Three years before that, white actor Gene Wilder darkened his face with shoe polish in the movie “Silver Streak” co-starring Richard Pryor. He used a stereotypical walk to impersonate a black person living in an urban neighborhood.
On television, viewers could see a Tom and Jerry cartoon featuring the character Mammy Two Shoes, an obese black maid who spoke in a stereotypical voice. The 1940s cartoon series was shown across several markets throughout the 1980s. Television stations ignored complaints from civil rights groups.
Elsewhere, Miami erupted into riots following the acquittal of white police officers who killed black salesman and retired Marine Arthur McDuffie in what many called a case of police brutality. President Jimmy Carter visited and pressed for an end to the violence, but a protester threw a bottle at his limousine as he left.
When Northam wore blackface to imitate Michael Jackson and copy his moonwalking skills at a 1984 San Antonio dance contest, television stations still aired Looney Tunes episodes with racially insensitive images using Bugs Bunny and other characters despite some controversial episodes being taken off the air in 1968.
African-Americans, however, had reason to be hopeful amid electoral gains. A year before, in 1983, Chicago became the latest city to elect a black mayor, Harold Washington, after activists registered 100,000 new black voters. That election, Jesse Jackson later said, paved the way for him to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 1984.
“It was out of that context that my own candidacy emerged,” Jackson said in the 1990 “Eyes on the Prize” documentary. Jackson lost the nomination to former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Two years after Northam’s moonwalk performance, the comedy “Soul Man” hit theaters. In the movie, Mark Watson, played by white actor C. Thomas Howell, takes tanning pills in a larger dose to appear African-American so he can obtain a scholarship meant for black students at Harvard Law School. The movie drew a strong reaction from the NAACP and protesters to movie theaters.
Still, “Soul Man” took in around $28 million domestically, equivalent to around $63.5 million today.
Despite those images, new and popular black cultural figures also emerged, including Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey and a young Michael Jordan. Black Entertainment Television, or BET, was founded in 1980 by businessman Robert L. Johnson, giving the country access to black entertainment using 1970s sitcoms and music.
But as Nelson George argued in his book “Post-Soul Nation: The Explosive, Contradictory, Triumphant and Tragic 1980s as Experienced by African Americans,” BET failed to counter negative images by relying on free music videos and investing little money in original programming. “Through this conservative strategy, BET prospered while offering little new to a community starved for images of itself,” George wrote.
In addition, the new black cultural figures rarely engaged in politics or spoke out against racial injustice.
Sometimes, stereotypes and comments did result in consequences. For example, CBS fired sports commentator Jimmy Snyder, known as Jimmy the Greek, in 1988 after he suggested in a television interview that black athletes were better because of slavery. The Los Angeles Dodgers fired general manager Al Campanis in 1987 for saying on ABC’s “Nightline” that blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager” and they were poor swimmers.
In 1987, black demonstrators marched in all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, to protest the racism that kept blacks out for 75 years. They were promptly attacked by white nationalists hurling rocks and waving Confederate flags. The shocking images sparked national outrage and led Oprah Winfrey to air an episode of her then-5-month-old syndicated talk show from the county.
“What are you afraid that black people are going to do?” Winfrey asked the audience.
“I’m afraid of them coming to Forsyth County,” one white man told her.
Today, Gates said, people can no longer claim ignorance. While it should have been understood that blackface was offensive during the 1980s, one might have had to go to the library to learn exactly why, he said.
“We also have more records digitized,” Gates said. “The access to archives is larger, and we have more diversity in the media so we can say these images are painful … and why we shouldn’t use them.”
Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman, a trailblazing African-American sister who was the first black sister in her white congregation, the first black woman to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and an inspiration to thousands of people with her words and songs, is another step further toward sainthood.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted Nov. 14 at their general assembly in Baltimore to advance Bowman’s cause, opening the way for a diocesan commission to determine whether she lived a life of “extraordinary and heroic virtue.”
Bowman, who was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, was declared a servant of God on May 15, when her home Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, requested the bishops endorse opening her cause for sainthood. On Nov. 18, in a ceremony scheduled before the vote even took place, Jackson Bishop Joseph Kopacz will read the edict opening the investigation, followed by a special Mass. Bowman died of cancer on March 30, 1990, at age 52.
Bowman will be declared venerable, worthy of imitation by the faithful, if the tribunal finds in Bowman’s favor and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome endorses the decision.
“Sister Thea always encouraged people to stand up for their rights and she continues to inspire,” said Sr. Eileen McKenzie, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration president, in an emailed statement. “As FSPA and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious pledge to unveil white privilege and purge the destructive effects of racism, we recognize Sister Thea’s cause to sainthood serves as a sign of the times. We believe she’d find hope that in this canonization process, there’s continued movement toward racial equity.”
McKenzie said the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration will follow the Jackson Diocese’s lead as the process moves forward, and that the community’s archives are open to commission officials.
There was a buzz in the motherhouse before and after the vote, McKenzie said.
“We’re looking around with eyes wide, saying, where is this going?” McKenzie told GSR in a phone interview. “It’s a fascinating time, and we’re having lots of conversations about how providential this moment is.
McKenzie said Bowman in 1989 challenged the bishops on racism, while today the bishops are themselves again taking up the cause with a pastoral letter on racism, even as they are being challenged by the sex abuse crisis in the church. Bowman’s message of reconciliation is again needed, she said.
Sr. Thea Bowman, seated, leads the singing of “We Shall Overcome” during the U.S. bishops’ meeting in South Orange, New Jersey, June 19, 1989. With Bowman are, standing from left, Atlanta Archbishop Eugene Marino, Albert Raboteau and Baltimore Bishop John Ricard. (CNS)
“We’re just kind of swimming in this understanding that there’s something happening with the Spirit in the world,” McKenzie said in the interview. “She was singing to them her pain, but she had a way of engaging them in the healing.”
Born Bertha Bowman on Dec. 29, 1937, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, she was the daughter of a doctor and a teacher. She attended Holy Child Jesus School in Canton, about 38 miles from her birthplace, run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. At age 8, she decided she wanted to become a Catholic. She knew by her early teenage years that she was called to consecrated life.
In the 1950s, she studied at Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where the order is based, while preparing to enter the convent. She was the first African-American member of the community, and one of very few African-Americans in La Crosse at the time. She went on to study at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. When she eventually returned to Canton in 1979 to care for her elderly parents, she continued to teach and inspire the people in her community.
Bowman led the Jackson Diocese’s Office of Intercultural Awareness, taught at several Catholic high schools and colleges, and was a faculty member of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans.
Renowned for her preaching, she took her message across the nation, speaking at church gatherings and conventions, making 100 speaking engagements a year until spreading cancer slowed her. Music was especially important to her. She would gather or bring a choir with her and often burst into song during her presentations.
In addition to her writings, her music also resulted in two recordings, “Sister Thea: Songs of My People” and ” ‘Round the Glory Manger: Christmas Spirituals.”
Before the vote, Kopacz told the assembly that requests that Bowman be considered for sainthood have been coming to his diocese since before he was installed in 2014.
“She courageously proclaimed that she would live until she died. And she did,” Kopacz said. “Her word, witness and song testified to her joy and holiness even as she faced the cross of terminal illness.”
He said Bowman believed African-American spirituality had much to offer the church, and now the need for that healing spirituality is critical.
“There is an urgency for her sanctity to be a leaven in our church and our society,” Kopacz said.
Bertha Bowman as a child (Courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)
Sr. Marla Lang professed vows with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in the same class as Bowman, and will attend the ceremony in Jackson.
Lang said entering religious life is jarring for anyone, and Bowman had the additional pressure of being in an all-white congregation in an all-white city, not to mention the cultural — and weather-related — shock of moving to Wisconsin from the Deep South. But if Bowman was troubled by her circumstances, Lang said, she didn’t show it.
“She had her spirituals — the music that was so beautiful. Most of us had been living with little or no contact with anyone of African descent, but her voice was so beautiful, it was just a very rich experience,” Lang said. “She was just a very graceful person to be around. But there must have been times when she must have felt like she was in a whole new area or culture.”
But Bowman’s words and her songs brought people together, she said.
“It just oozed out of her whole life. You give her a microphone and her spirit just moved into the hearts of those around her,” Lang said. “She just knew how to let her energy flow. … Her warmth just kindled people’s hearts.”
At the order’s chapter in 1980, Bowman was asked to sing the Gospel at the final liturgy, Lang said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that proclamation of the Gospel,” she said. “There must have been four or five hundred people there, and she just rang it out. She just called us to live out the Gospel not only with great joy, but with great intent and spirit.”
Sr. Mary Ann Gschwind was Bowman’s roommate during their first summer studying at Catholic University in 1966. Gschwind is the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration’s archivist and has been sworn in as a member of the historical commission for Bowman’s cause.
Even at Catholic University, Bowman was unique, Gschwind said: There were African-American sisters on campus, but they were all in African-American congregations. Since the sisters still wore habits, it was easy to see that Bowman was from a white congregation.
Sr. Thea Bowman through the years: “Her story and lived experiences as the first and only black Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration remind us that the church was never an innocent bystander in the story of American racism.” (Photos courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)
“It took a lot of nerve for her to join our community,” Gschwind said. “I don’t think I could have done it if the situation were reversed.”
And yet Bowman inspired and moved people everywhere she went.
“She taught at the school here in La Crosse, and of course it was all white, but she was still just a phenomenon,” Gschwind said. “They have very precious memories of her.”
It may have been growing up in Canton that drove her to bring people together: The small town was so extremely segregated that even in the 1970s and ’80s, there were stores African-Americans knew they were not welcome in. When Gschwind and her mother visited Bowman in Canton, her mother was so charmed by Dr. Bowman that she kissed his cheek when saying goodbye. Thea Bowman almost burst into tears.
“She said, ‘No white woman has ever kissed my black father,’ ” Gschwind said.
The investigation into Bowman’s life will have no shortage of material to examine. The congregation’s archives contain three file drawers of Bowman’s speeches — most of which she handwrote on scrap paper to avoid waste — and 20 bankers boxes of documents, Gschwind said. There are also many artifacts, such as Bowman’s wheelchair and the academic hoods she received with each of her many honorary degrees.
Dan Johnson-Wilmot was a colleague of Bowman’s at Viterbo in the 1970s, where he was a professor in the music department and she taught English and studied voice.
“Anyone who went to her presentations, I don’t think she ever had one where she didn’t sing,” Johnson-Wilmot said. “She had an uncanny gift — it didn’t matter who was there, she could weave a song into just about any kind of presentation she was giving, and people were just struck when she began singing because it was always from her heart and soul.”
Johnson-Wilmot said the two became fast friends after an incident that started out ugly but became just another sign of how Bowman could bring people together.
“She had an uncanny gift — it didn’t matter who was there, she could weave a song into just about any kind of presentation she was giving, and people were just struck when she began singing because it was always from her heart and soul.” (Courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)
There were several African-American students from Bowman’s hometown of Canton at Viterbo who formed the core of a gospel choir Bowman established called the Hallelujah Singers. The choral group Johnson-Wilmot directed was invited to sing at a local function, but learned an earlier invitation to the Hallelujah Singers had been withdrawn when organizers found out the singers were African-American.
Johnson-Wilmot said he called the organizers and said his group wouldn’t sing unless both groups were invited. In the end, he said, both groups sang and the event was a success.
“[Bowman] asked me, ‘Why did you do that?’ She knew I was this white boy from Duluth, Minnesota, with very little contact with African-Americans,” Johnson-Wilmot said. “But regardless of your background, you can feel the presence of discrimination, and I wasn’t going to allow it.”
That was the beginning of a deep affection, he said.
“She was an only child, and one day she told me, ‘I decided you’re going to be my brother,’ and she became my big sister,” Johnson-Wilmot said. “I have so many letters from her that are addressed like that to me.”
“I always say my claim to fame is I was a friend to Sister Thea for 35 years,” Smith said. “She was a star and I was in orbit around her.”
Smith said Bowman’s parents worried about her joining an all-white religious order in the North.
“Her dad said, ‘They’re not going to like you up there.’ She said, ‘I’ll make them like me,’ ” Smith said. “She spread joy even during her struggle with cancer. She was always spreading joy and happiness through her songs and her wisdom.”
Sr. Charlene Smith with Sr. Thea Bowman: “I always say my claim to fame is I was a friend to Sister Thea for 35 years. She was a star and I was in orbit around her.” (Courtesy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration)
Smith said Bowman’s joy came out even when she was seriously ill.
“She didn’t know how to not sing. She sang all day long; she sang in the night,” Smith said.
In 1989, Bowman traveled back to La Crosse for a symposium, but was so sick Smith was certain she would be unable to speak at the event. “As soon as people knew she was in town, they just streamed into the convent to see her,” Smith said.
At the symposium, “they rolled her out in her wheelchair and she absolutely electrified the whole audience there,” Smith said.
When Bowman spoke at the U.S. bishops’ meeting in June 1989, less than a year before her death from bone cancer, she was blunt. She told the bishops that people had told her black expressions of music and worship were “un-Catholic.”
She began her presentation by singing “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” a rebuke to the shepherds of a church that often neglects its members of color. “Can you hear me, church?” she asked. “Will you help me? Jesus told me the church is my home.”
Bowman pointed out that the universal church includes people of all races and cultures and she challenged the bishops to find ways to consult those of other cultures when making decisions. She told them they were obligated to better understand and integrate not just black Catholics, but people of all cultural backgrounds.
Catholic News Service reported that her remarks “brought tears to the eyes of many bishops and observers.” She also sang to them and, at the end, had them all link hands and join her in singing “We Shall Overcome.” They gave her a rousing standing ovation.
Gschwind said Bowman challenging the bishops and having them embrace her in response is known to many in the community as “her first miracle.”
The legacy of Bowman and her generation is one of both condemnation and redemption, said Shannen Dee Williams, a history professor at Villanova University who is working on a book about black Catholic sisters.
“Along with the possible canonizations of Servant of God Mother Mary Lange and Venerable Henriette Delille, the formal opening of Sister Thea Bowman’s cause for canonization will signify that the church is ready to embrace the story of the real sister act in the United States — the story of how generations of devout black Catholic women and girls fought against racial segregation and exclusion in their white-dominated church in order to answer God’s calls on their lives and minister as women religious,” Williams wrote in an email to Global Sisters Report.
“Sister Thea Bowman was a member of the generation of black Catholic women and girls who desegregated the nation’s historically white sisterhoods after World War II. Her story and lived experiences as the first and only (African-American) Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration remind us that the church was never an innocent bystander in the story of American racism.”
Williams said that while those in the battle for civil rights often had the protection of the public eye to shame opponents, those desegregating white Catholic institutes did not — which makes their fight that much more inspiring.
But that fight also deeply wounded many.
“Sister Thea’s refusal to abandon her call to religious life or succumb to bitterness in the face of unholy discrimination did not come without cost,” Williams wrote. “She is one of several pioneering black sisters in white congregations who died young — in their forties and fifties due to stressed-related diseases like cancer.”
Smith said Bowman must be “getting a big kick” out of the canonization process.
“She said, ‘I just always try to let my little light shine,'” Smith said. “And she did.”
A community center in southeast Cleveland has been serving the city’s predominantly black Mt. Pleasant neighborhood since 1966. The center offers education assistance, provides meals and helps connect people to additional social services. In 2001, the center changed its name from the Hunger Center to the Thea Bowman Center, to honor Bowman’s legacy of intercultural awareness in the Catholic Church.
Every year, the center puts on a gala to raise money for its operating costs. The gala usually consists of a dinner and a few speakers — but this year, the center decided to try something different. They hired Sherrie Tolliver, an actress with the group Women In History, to portray Bowman in a 20-minute, one-woman show.
Tolliver and Gayle Bullock, a member of the Thea Bowman Center’s board of directors, spoke to Global Sisters Report about the process of putting the show together and the lasting impact of Bowman’s legacy, both on her namesake center and on the world.
GSR: What was the impetus for creating a show about Thea Bowman?
Bullock: Our executive director had heard of an organization called Women In History and thought it would be great to reintroduce Thea Bowman to those who have been supporting us over the years — so they know Thea Bowman’s not just a name on the wall. We reached out to Women in History and they sent us the amazing Sherrie Tolliver, whose likeness to Thea Bowman actually helped a lot, too [laughs].
Sherrie, were you familiar with Thea Bowman before you took on this project?
Tolliver: Well, I had gone to the Thea Bowman Center in 2009 when I worked for the Cleveland Metro Park as a cultural history interpreter. I did Rosa Parks, and Sr. Sheila [Marie Tobbe], the nun who was running it at the time, said, “You could do Sr. Thea Bowman. Have you heard of her?” I read a brief biography and nothing came of it; that particular introduction to her didn’t really stir anything in me. I just thought, “Oh, wow, she sounds interesting.”
But when [the center] asked me a second time and Gayle gave me her books and her videos, Sr. Thea’s energy and presence and her story just overwhelmed me. And when I saw her picture — her face is just so illuminated with the joy and love — she just radiated off the page, and it was just a really bad photocopy picture of her on office copy paper [laughs]. And it still was just radiant. And so I said, “Oh yeah, this is going to be one of those things where I say, ‘Lead me, guide me.’ ”
Students from the Thea Bowman Center participate in a service day fundraiser as part of the center’s association with My Commitment, My Community — an Ohio program that focuses on youth advocacy and job readiness. (Provided photo)
What was the response to the show?
Bullock: The response was overwhelmingly positive. The children in our center perform every year — either singing a song or playing instruments — and this is the first time that the whole audience got up and started singing with the kids. A lot of that is because Sherrie, as Sr. Thea, walked around and had people singing into a microphone with the kids. And so, by the end, everyone was on their feet singing “This Little Light of Mine” with the kids of the center. That has never happened before.
And the feedback that we’ve actually gotten from it was that was probably one of the best galas ever. I think it was because Sherrie was so powerful in telling the story of Sr. Thea and even sort of personifying her voice. Sherrie, she’s an actress, so she researched it and she came off with the perfect Thea Bowman to really inspire the audience.
Sherrie, did portraying Sr. Thea change you in any way? Did you learn anything new?
Tolliver: I like what the people in the church call her “holy boldness.” And she’s inspired me so much because she used every gift that she had. She was an intellectual, she was spiritual, she was proudly a black woman from the South, she was completely devoted to God’s work and reaching out to love people. And those things are difficult for me sometimes because I don’t have the courage that she had.
And then, also, I had a sister who was a minister and who had breast cancer and died at 54. And so she resonated that way with me. It made me really appreciate my own sister’s devotion to her spirituality and the work that she did — work that was very similar to Sr. Thea. When I read about Sr. Thea, it made me appreciate my own sister even more, and it made me feel like this is work that I have to do as well.
It’s not just about portraying her life and sharing her story. It’s Sr. Thea saying we can all do this. We can all let our little light shine. Her whole story is just a testimony to what God can do in your life if your mind and your eyes are open to being human and reaching out to others in their humanity. I just have such a deep respect and profound admiration for her.
Children take a music class during the Thea Bowman Center’s 2018 summer program. (Provided photo)
Bullock: Sherrie just spoke about how Sr. Thea inspired her, but I know there’s something Sherrie wants to work on, and I just think it’s important to share. So I hope you don’t mind sharing that.
Tolliver: No, no. I got the idea at the gala to create a play about Sr. Thea and see if we could do it, maybe next year, for Women’s History Month or Black History Month — or just whenever, because you don’t have to wait for those months to do something, like people think you do.
I want to see if we can get a grant or some kind of funding to have schoolchildren bused in to the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, which is at St. Ignatius High School [in Cleveland]. It would be wonderful to have busloads of kids come from all the Catholic schools to see a story about a real Catholic nun who changed the world and just to plant in their hearts that this is the work that people do with the gifts that God gave them.
Bullock: She was telling me about it. I was like, “Oh my God, that would be such an amazing thing to see.” And so, I just love that this was able to inspire her to even take it more broadly. That tells me the power of Sr. Thea.
I will tell you, the first time I saw Sr. Thea speaking on a clip that I saw on the internet, all I thought was, “Man, this is a woman I would have loved to have sat down with.” And I shared that with people who have met her, and they’re like, “Oh, Gayle, I don’t know what the video looked like, but it sure didn’t do her justice. This was a person that you would enjoy just sitting down and having a conversation with.”
Tolliver: Those are some of the things I wanted to include in the play: the people that knew her. I want to make their words about her part of the story. I know there’s man who works at the Thea Bowman Center who was from Mississippi and knew her.
What does it mean to you that Sr. Thea might become a saint?
Tolliver: I think that would be magnificent. I think that her life, her legacy is so inspiring, is so real. I think it would be very healing and helpful for the church and for interracial relations. I think it could do nothing but positive things, because I believe that her message and her sincerity and her energy would only just continue to send out wonderful ripples throughout not just the Catholic community but the world.
Bullock: I would have to echo that completely. If she becomes a saint, I think one of the great benefits of it is that more and more people would then hear her story. I love the fact that she could be a saint. I think it’s been well earned and I think it will help to drive us, as a center, to be held accountable to really live into who she is.
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, left, discusses racial unity with Atlanta pastor Dhati Lewis, a vice president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, during Evangelicals for Life on Jan. 17, 2019, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
In recent decades the Southern Baptist Convention, which was founded defending slavery, has attempted to come to terms with its record on race.
Now as the nation’s largest Protestant denomination faces a rare leadership vacuum at the top of two of its agencies and two of its seminaries — and installs a new mission board president Wednesday (Feb. 6) — questions have arisen about whether its statements committing to diversity will be reflected in hiring decisions.
SBC President J.D. Greear told Religion News Service he has recommended that search committees seeking new executives keep racial diversity in mind and consider going beyond “following networks that you know” in their search.
“In the ones that have asked me I have strongly encouraged there to be at least consideration given,” he said in an interview in January.
Greear noted that he does not have direct control over the selection of the new leaders. But he said that the search committees are open to diverse candidates.
“I haven’t received resistance from any of the search committees that I’ve talked to,” he said.
James Merritt is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Photo courtesy of James Merritt
Last week, two former SBC presidents, joined by a prominent Las Vegas pastor, took the unusual step of sending a letter to the search committee for the new president of the SBC Executive Committee, inquiring about the breadth of efforts to replace Frank Page. Page retired last year after a “morally inappropriate relationship.”
“In your search for the person to fill this position, have you interviewed any minority candidates?” asked James Merritt, Bryant Wright, and Vance Pitman in an email to the search committee, according to the Biblical Recorder, a Baptist journal in North Carolina. “If not, we respectfully ask why not?”
Merritt confirmed to RNS that he sent the email. In response, he said, the committee “respectfully declined to answer our questions,” saying it could not reveal internal discussions.
“We felt like it was a legitimate question to ask out of a deep concern that we do indeed fulfill both the spirit and the letter of what we resolved to do,” said Merritt, a Georgia pastor. “And that is to reach far and wide and include minorities in the process.”
Almost a quarter century ago, Southern Baptists passed a historic resolution repudiating slavery. In 2012, they elected New Orleans pastor Fred Luter as the SBC’s first black president to a one-year term and re-elected him the next year. In 2015, they passed another statement that urged “Southern Baptist entities and Convention committees to make leadership appointments that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the body of Christ and of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Texas pastor Dwight McKissic, who has called for the SBC to place minorities in appointed executive positions — beyond the elections of denominational officers to one-year terms — tweeted his appreciation of the email sent by the three Baptist leaders.
“It would be a travesty to appt a Prez, without … interviewing a minority,” he tweeted Saturday. “It would be a huge statement of disrespect to the 20% + minority churches who comprise the SBC.”
Roger “Sing” Oldham, spokesman for the Executive Committee, responding to a request for additional information, said the search committee is “diverse in its composition” — including a white woman and two black male pastors. He expects it will update the full committee about its search by its Feb. 18 meeting.
Oldham noted that the nominees elected to the SBC’s boards and committees in June, and chosen by its Committee on Nominations, were 12.6 percent non-Anglo. Of those nominees who were not serving as pastors, 43 percent were women.
Recently, at least two milestones also have been reached among the six SBC seminaries. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Kentucky-based flagship of those seminaries, appointed its first African-American board officer in 2018. Also last year, a woman was elected chair of the trustee board of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.
Merritt said he hoped that all the current search committees would consider and interview diverse candidates.
“I think too often that Southern Baptists, we kind of come to the party a little bit late and too often we’ve been the caboose and not the locomotive,” he said. “And I think that we have an opportunity here to kind of start changing that narrative.”
After Wednesday’s installation of Paul Chitwood as president of the International Mission Board, four major SBC institutions will need to find new leaders: the Executive Committee, two seminaries and LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC’s publishing division.
Paige Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas in May after allegedly dismissing women’s concerns about rape and domestic abuse. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley announced in October that he would retire at the end of this academic year. Thom Rainer announced in August that he plans to retire from LifeWay this year.
The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, speaks with reporters at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting on June 14, 2017, in Phoenix. Photo by Van Payne/Baptist Press
McKissic said in an interview that he has seen progress in blacks being hired as Baptist association and state convention staff. He said he also is aware of minority candidates who have applied for past open executive positions and were not chosen.
“It’s not because they are not interested or they don’t apply,” said the black pastor, who has proposed SBC statements condemning the Confederate flag and “alt-white supremacy.”
“The Southern Baptist Convention has not demonstrated a willingness to place a black — a minority, period — to those high-level positions,” he said.
Dhati Lewis, the sole African-American vice president at the convention’s North American Mission Board, said he is not optimistic about diversity being accomplished soon in the top ranks, though he believes it should occur.
“They’re going to choose people that they trust,” he said of selection committees. “And when your relationships aren’t diverse, it’s hard to find people that you can trust that don’t look like you, talk like you and act like you.”
Appointing more diverse executive leadership beyond the traditional choices, he said, would be an opportunity for the convention “to show that we genuinely want to reach North America and we can get beyond our Southern roots and we can become more global.”
Asked about whether a woman could assume any of these positions, some leaders said that there’s nothing in the denomination’s constitution that precludes a female executive. The SBC’s faith statement declares that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Greear said his North Carolina megachurch has reviewed its staff directory and determined that many roles that traditionally had been held by men could be held by women. Now, the captain of its domestic and overseas missions program is a woman.
“I think the SBC as a whole – that’s in front of us – is asking the same questions,” Greear said.
European museums are under mounting pressure to return the irreplaceable artifacts plundered during colonial times. As an archaeologist who works in Africa, this debate has a very real impact on my research. I benefit from the convenience of access provided by Western museums while being struck by the ethical quandary of how they were taken there by illegal means, and by guilt that my colleagues throughout Africa may not have the resources to see material from their own country, which is kept thousands of miles away.
Now, a report commissioned by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has recommended that art plundered from sub-Saharan Africa during the colonial era should be returned through permanent restitution.
The 108-page study, written by French art historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr, speaks of the “theft, looting, despoilment, trickery and forced consent” by which colonial powers acquired these materials. The call for “restitution” echoes the widely accepted approach which seeks to return looted Nazi art to its rightful owners.
The record of colonial powers in African countries was frankly disgusting. Colonial rule was imposed by the barrel of the gun, with military campaigns waged on the flimsiest excuses. The Benin expedition of 1897 was a punitive attack on the ancient kingdom of Benin, famous not only for its huge city and ramparts but its extraordinary cast bronze and brass plaques and statues.
The city was burnt down, and the British Admiralty auctioned the booty – more than 2,000 artworks – to “pay” for the expedition. The British Museum got around 40% of the haul.
None of the artifacts stayed in Africa – they’re now scattered in museums and private collections around the world.
The 1867 British expedition to the ancient kingdom of Abyssinia – which never fully acceded to colonial control – was mounted to ostensibly free missionaries and government agents detained by the emperor Tewodros II. It culminated in the Battle of Magdala, and the looting of priceless manuscripts, paintings, and artifacts from the Ethiopian church, which reputedly needed 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry them all away. Most ended up in the British Library, the British Museum, and the V&A, where they remain today.
Bought, stolen, destroyed
Other African treasures were also taken without question. The famous ruins of Great Zimbabwe were subject to numerous digs by associates of British businessman Cecil Rhodes – who set up the Rhodesia Ancient Ruins Ltd in 1895 to loot more than 40 sites of their gold – and much of the archaeology on the site was destroyed. The iconic soapstone birds were returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa in 1981, but many items still remain in Western museums.
While these are the most famous cases, the majority of African objects in Western Museums were collected by adventurers, administrators, traders, and settlers, with little thought as to the legality of ownership. Even if they were bought from their local owners, it was often for a pittance, and there were few controls to limit their export. Archaeological relics, such as inscriptions or grave-markers, were simply collected and taken away. Such activities continued well into the 20th century.
Making them safe
The argument is often advanced that by coming to the West, these objects were preserved for posterity – if they were left in Africa they simply would have rotted away. This is a specious argument, rooted in racist attitudes that somehow indigenous people can’t be trusted to curate their own cultural heritage. It is also a product of the corrosive impact of colonialism.
Colonial powers had a patchy record of setting up museums to preserve these objects locally. While impressive national museums were sometimes built in colonial capitals, they were later starved of funding or expertise. After African countries achieved independence, these museums were low on the priority list for national funding and overseas aid and development, while regional museums were virtually neglected.
Nowadays, many museums on the African continent lie semi-derelict, with no climate control, poorly trained staff and little security. There are numerous examples of theft or lost collections. No wonder Western museums are reluctant to return their collections.
If collections are to be returned, the West needs to take some responsibility for this state of affairs and invest in the African museums and their staff. There have been some attempts to do this, but the task is huge. It is not enough to send the contentious art and objects back to an uncertain future – there must be a plan to rebuild Africa’s crumbling museum infrastructure, supported by effective partnerships and real money.
The rightful owners
Will the Musée du quai Branly, that great treasure house of world ethnography in Paris, which holds more than 70,000 objects from Africa, be emptied of its contents? Or the massive new Humboldt Forum – a Prussian Castle rebuilt at great cost to house ethnographic artifacts in Berlin which opens early in 2019 – be shorn of its African collections? There are already fears at the British Museum that a very effective campaign may lead to the return of its Rapu Nui Moai statues to Easter Island.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Magdala, and the V&A Museum has entered into worthy discussions to return its treasures to Ethiopia. But there are reports this would be on the basis of a long-term loan, and conditional on the Ethiopian government withdrawing its claim for restitution of the plundered objects. The Prussian Foundation in Berlin entered into a similar agreement, unwilling to cede ownership of a tiny fragment of soapstone bird to the Zimbabwe Government in 2000.
The report by Savoy and Sarr offers hope that such deals could become a thing of the past and that Africa’s rich cultural heritage can be returned, restituted and restored to the brilliant cultures that made it.
Crowding the plate, fearsome and fearless, Frank Robinson hammered his way into the Hall of Fame.
His legacy, however, was cemented that day in 1975 when he simply stood in the dugout at old Cleveland Stadium — the first black manager in Major League Baseball.
Robinson, the only player to earn the MVP award in both leagues and a Triple Crown winner, died Thursday at 83. He had been in failing health and in hospice care at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. MLB said he was with family and friends at the time.
“Frank Robinson’s resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
Robinson hit 586 home runs — he was fourth on the career list behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays when he retired and now ranks 10th. An MVP with Cincinnati and Baltimore, he led the Orioles to their first World Series championship in 1966.
“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends. Frank was a hard-nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done,” Aaron posted on Twitter.
“Baseball will miss a tremendous human being,” he said.
An All-Star outfielder in 12 seasons and a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown, Robinson also was a Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove outfielder and a bruising runner.
But his place in the sport’s history extended far beyond the batter’s box and basepaths.
Robinson fulfilled his quest to become the first African-American manager in the big leagues when he was hired by the Cleveland Indians. His impact was immediate and memorable.
The Indians opened at home that year and Robinson, still active, batted himself second as the designated hitter. In the first inning, he homered off Doc Medich and the crowd went crazy, cheering the whole April afternoon as Cleveland beat the Yankees.
The Reds, Orioles and Indians have retired his No. 20 and honored him with statues at their stadiums.
Robinson later managed San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal. He became the first manager of the Washington Nationals after the franchise moved from Montreal for the 2005 season — the Nationals put him in their Ring of Honor.
More than half the major league teams have had black managers since his debut with Cleveland.
Robinson later spent several years working as an executive for MLB and for a time oversaw the annual Civil Rights Game. He advocated for more minorities throughout baseball and worked with former Commissioner Bud Selig to develop the Selig Rule, directing teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new manager.
For all he did on and off the field, Robinson was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005.
“Frank Robinson’s wife, Barbara Ann Cole, once said, “He believes in rules and he respects the game. He reveres the game,'” Bush said in a statement. “When I presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, I noted that ‘Baseball fans across America will tell you the feeling is returned. In the game we love, few names will ever command as much respect and esteem as the name of Frank Robinson.'”
Brooks Robinson, a fellow first-ballot Hall of Famer, said he spoke to his Baltimore teammate and longtime friend a few days ago.
“He was the best player I ever played with,” he said.
Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre played against and worked with Frank Robinson for years.
“He was a tough nut,” Torre recalled at the owners’ meetings in Orlando, Florida. “He never lost that feistiness, which puts a smile on your face … He was always that guy that commanded a lot of respect and he had a presence about him.”
Born Aug. 21, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, California, and was a basketball teammate of future NBA great Bill Russell. But it was on the diamond, rather than court, where fame awaited Robinson.
“We all know we lost one of the Greats,” Russell tweeted.
Starting out in an era when Mays, Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams were the big hitters, Robinson more than held his own over 21 seasons — if anything, many who watched Robinson felt he never got his full due as an all-time great. He finished with 1,812 RBIs and hit .294 — he played in the World Series five times, and homered in each of them.
Robinson was the only player to hit a ball completely out of old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and once connected for grand slams in consecutive innings of a game. But he didn’t just slug away, as evidenced by a .389 on-base average boosted by 1,420 walks against 1,532 strikeouts. Extremely alert on the bases, he had 204 steals.
Robinson played the game with grace, yet was known as fierce competitor who combined hard work with natural talent. He planted himself near the plate, yielding to no pitcher, and didn’t seem to care about being brushed back or getting hit by a pitch 198 times.
“Pitchers did me a favor when they knocked me down,” Robinson said. “It made me more determined. I wouldn’t let that pitcher get me out.”
And opposing pitchers noticed.
“Frank Robinson might have been the best I ever saw at turning his anger into runs. He challenged you physically as soon as he stepped into the batter’s box, with half his body hanging over the plate,” Hall ace Bob Gibson once wrote.
“As a rule, I’m reluctant to express admiration for hitters, but I make an exception for Frank Robinson,” Gibson wrote.
Robinson carried a similar philosophy as a baserunner, unapologetically sliding spikes high whenever necessary.
“The baselines belong to the runner, and whenever I was running the bases, I always slid hard,” Robinson declared.
Robinson broke in with a bang as a 20-year-old big leaguer. He tied the first-year record with 38 home runs for Cincinnati in 1956, scored a league-high 122 times and was voted NL Rookie of the Year.
Robinson was the 1961 NL MVP after batting .323 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the pennant-winning Reds, and reached career highs in runs (134) and RBIs (136) in 1962.
All-time hits leader Pete Rose joined the Reds the next year.
“He had a huge influence on me when I first came up in ’63,” Rose told The Associated Press by phone. “Frank was a really aggressive, hard-nosed player, and it rubbed off on everybody. Frank was the one who took me under his wings, so to speak. … Frank consistently talked to me about playing the game the right way,” he said.
Robinson was an All-Star, too, in 1965, but Reds owner Bill DeWitt decided Robinson was an old-ish 30 and time to make a move.
That December, Robinson was the centerpiece in what would ultimately be one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, going to Baltimore for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.
Robinson became an instant hit with the Orioles in 1966 as the unanimous AL MVP and a Triple Crown winner.
On May 8, he became the only player ever to hit a home run completely out of Baltimore’s home park, Memorial Stadium. The drive came against Cleveland ace Luis Tiant and the spot where the ball sailed over the left-field wall was marked by a flag that read “HERE” that remained in place until the Orioles left for Camden Yards in 1991.
Robinson batted .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBIs during his first season in Birdland. He then homered in the first inning of the 1966 World Series opener at Dodger Stadium and capped off the four-game sweep of Los Angeles with another homer off Don Drysdale in a 1-0 win in Game 4.
Robinson hit two home runs against Rose and the Reds to help win another crown for the Orioles in 1970.
All told, Robinson was an All-Star in five of his six seasons with Baltimore, reaching the World Series four times and batting .300 with 179 home runs. The cap on his Cooperstown plaque carries on O’s logo.
Pappas went 30-29 over two-plus seasons with the Reds, Baldschun won one game in 51 appearances over two years with Cincinnati and Simpson hit five home runs as a part-time outfielder for the Reds during two mediocre seasons.
Robinson was traded to the Dodgers before the 1972 season. He played for the California Angels in 1973 and was dealt to Cleveland late in the 1974 season.
His managerial debut came 28 years after Jackie Robinson broke the MLB color barrier as a player.
“Every time I put on this uniform, I think of Jackie Robinson,” Frank Robinson said as he began his new role.
Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and daughter Sharon paid tribute.
“Frank Robinson was a dear friend and realized one of Jack’s great hopes, becoming baseball’s first African-American manager. He was remarkable and made us all feel proud for his many contributions to baseball and to society,” they said together in a statement.
Robinson had coached for the Orioles and worked in their front office when he became their manager in 1988 after the team opened at 0-6. Things didn’t get much better right away as Baltimore went on to lose its first 21 games and finished 54-107. The next season, the O’s went 87-75 and Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year.
Tough and demanding, he went 1,065-1,176 overall as a big league manager.
A no-nonsense guy, Robinson also had a sharp wit. That served him well in Baltimore where, in addition to being a star right fielder, he was the judge for the team’s Kangaroo Court, assessing playful fines for missing signs, uniform mishaps and other things he deemed as infractions.
At the time, the Orioles had a batboy named Jay Mazzone, whose hands were amputated when he was 2 after a burning accident. Mazzone capably did his job for years with metal hooks and became good friends with Robinson.
Some players, though, initially weren’t sure how to treat the teen.
“Frank Robinson broke the ice,” Mazzone said. “He was running his Kangaroo Court and calling a vote among the players, whether to fine somebody or not.”
“It was either thumbs up or thumbs down,” he recalled. “After the vote, he said, ‘Jay, you’re fined for not voting.’ Everybody laughed. After that, I was treated just like everybody else.”
Survivors include his wife, Barbara, and daughter Nichelle.
There was no immediate word on funeral arrangements. The family said in lieu of flowers, contributions in his Robinson’s memory could be made to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, or the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay and AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month. Each year U.S. residents set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country. While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.
The History of Black History Month
First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month. Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.
In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month. He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Objections to Black History Month
Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races. Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group. Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year. Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the remaining eleven months.
Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history. Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.
1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community
I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History. I’ve heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at local and state events. It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.
Heroes like these and many more deserve honor for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality. Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories so that we can commemorate their achievements.
2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained
Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them. It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events and the men and women who took part in them.
To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure. Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.
3. Celebrating Black History Month Provides an Opportunity to Highlight the Best of Black History & Culture
All too often only the most negative aspects of African American culture and communities get highlighted. We hear about the poverty rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates. We are inundated with images of unruly athletes and raunchy reality TV stars as paradigms of success for Black people. And we are daily subject to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is, in some aspects, still learning to accept us.
Black History Month provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative as African Americans. We can applaud Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. We can let our eyes flit across the verses of poetry Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American poet and first African American female to publish a book. And we can groove to soulful jazz and somber blues music composed by the likes of Miles Davis and Robert Johnson. Black History Month spurs us to seek out and lift up the best in African American accomplishments.
4. Celebrating Black History Month Creates Awareness for All People
I recall my 8th grade history textbook where little more than a page was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement. I remember my shock as a Christian to learn about the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church because in all my years in churches and Christian schools no one had ever mentioned it.
Unfortunately it seems that, apart from intentional effort, Black history is often lost in the mists of time. When we observe Black History Month we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness.
5. Celebrating Black History Month Reminds Us All that Black History Is Our History
It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us. Black and White, men and women, young and old. The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness. Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.
Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month
As a believer, I see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty. No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives.
God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history. We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work. He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue–and see that our Creator had a plan all along. He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation, His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.
What do the following place names have in common: Salem, MA; Sharon, CT; Jericho, NY; Rehoboth Beach, DE?
The name of Samantha Stephen’s mother in the television show “Bewitched” was Endora. What was the significance of her name?
What design did Benjamin Franklin want for the Great Seal of the United States of America?
While you are pondering the answers to those questions, let us reflect on the fact that President Trump has embraced proposals in six states to offer classes in biblical literacy.
Let me state, at the outset, that this is a bad idea — in practical terms, and for political reasons.
The ACLU is aware of the dangers and risks; a case in Kentucky emphasized that “Bible Literacy” courses may not promote religion or a particular religious viewpoint, test students on matters of religious faith, nor be designed to instill religious life lessons.”
Also: because of the atmosphere in America today, such classes would undoubtedly become part of the culture wars.
And: even the choice of a Bible — especially the choice of a Bible — is a politically partisan choice. King James? Revised Standard Version? New American Version? For the Hebrew Bible — Jewish Publication Society?
Moreover, with the proliferation of religious and cultural diversity in the United States today, growing numbers of American citizens do not find their primary religious inspiration in either the Jewish Bible or the New Testament, but rather, in the Koran, the Vedas, and in other religious texts.
Or, in no religious texts at all.
Having said that, let me also say that America needs more biblical literacy.
First: knowing about the Bible as literature is a crucial part of what it means to be a literate person.
Notice the precision of my language. It is knowing about the Bible; it is certainly not believing the Bible.
Neither is it reading the Bible for the sake of reading the Bible. To put it in Jewish terms: this is treif (unkosher), and has been since 1963, with Abington School District v. Schempp, which ruled Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional.
There is a crucial and subtle difference between a faith-oriented approach to teaching Bible (“This is what you should know and this is what you should believe”) and a literacy-based intellectual and academic approach (“This is what you should know about, because this is part of your literaryinheritance.”
Consider what American students have learned, and continue to learn, in their English classes: Greek mythology; Greek theater; Shakespeare; Dickens; Hemingway. Consider the various narratives that they know, just from daily life: Harry Potter, Star Wars, and a plethora of video games that I could not even name.
If they can learn, understand, and appreciate Greek literature for its aesthetic and emotional value, why not the Bible? When I was a teenager, my extraordinarily talented teacher, the late Bob Yesselman, made my soul quiver when I read of the moment when Oedipus learned the truth about his life.
Would there be anything wrong with teenagers having that same moment of catharsis in reading about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son?
If they can learn about Iphigenia, then why not Isaac — especially because he survived? Why not compare those stories?
Second: knowing about the Bible as literature can help us understand some of the motivations of the founders of our nation.
Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel’s covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. (“Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke,” said Winthrop. “Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.”) They read about God’s chosen people and took it to heart: They were God’s chosen people, or–as Lincoln put it–God’s “almost chosen people.” The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.
Take New England, for example. Early American colonists saw themselves in biblical terms. The English monarchy was Pharaoh. England was Egypt. The Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea. Their destination was like the land of Israel. (Tragically, horrifically, this meant that the natives were forced to play the role of the Canaanites, which meant that they had to be defeated and extirpated. That is but one of the problems with American exceptionalism, which itself comes from a biblical source.)
Without biblical literacy, we don’t know the meaning of “a shining city on a hill.” We miss the allusions in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We remain deaf to the references in American patriotic songs and spirituals. We lose large pieces of our understanding of how America came to be, and the vision that permeated that founding.
You need the Bible to understand American history — in a way that no other country other than Israel can claim.
Now, to the answers to the quiz.
What do the following place names have in common: Salem, MA; Sharon, CT; Jericho, NY; Rehoboth Beach, DE?
Answer: all of those names find their origins in the Hebrew Bible. As I said before, the original English settlers (though not all of them — see Colin Woodard, American Nations) saw their destiny in biblical terms. That is why biblical place names dot the maps of New England and the Middle States — as well as Utah, and various other places.
The name of Samantha Stephen’s mother in the television show “Bewitched” was Endora. What was the significance of her name?
Answer: “Endora” is a reference to the Witch of Endor whom King Saul consults in First Samuel, chapter 28. A modicum of biblical literacy is necessary for even popular culture. (Trivia question: in the series, how many times did Endora actually pronounce her son-in-law Darrin’s name correctly?)
What design did Benjamin Franklin want for the Great Seal of the United States of America?
Answer: Franklin’s preference for the Great Seal was a depiction of the ancient Israelites crossing the Red Sea — with the motto being “rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” As I said earlier, the Exodus from Egypt loomed large in our colonial ancestors’ imaginations.
To repeat: I am not in favor of teaching the Bible in public schools, for the various reasons that I stated earlier. It will only lead to trouble.
That said, I think of the late Mr. Bob Yesselman, my English teacher at Bethpage High School.
He instilled in me a lifelong love of Greek drama and Shakespeare.
Sometimes, I wonder: if I had learned the book of Genesis from him, back when I was a junior in high school, would I have learned to love text a mere five years earlier?
Several years ago, MapQuest directed me on a 10-hour drive to visit my father in a Florida hospital. Complications from diabetes, including blindness, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, and a below-the-knee amputation, had taken their toll. This time my father, 69, was hospitalized for an infection of unknown origin that physicians could not name, despite their many attempts to grow cultures.
I did not know it at the time, but my father was dying.
Once I arrived at the hospital from Durham, North Carolina, I could hear his screams from the nurses’ station. “Never mind. I hear him,” I told the nurse whom I had just asked the location of my father’s room. “I’ll follow the sounds.”
That any patient would be left in so much pain that his screams could be heard down the hall was unacceptable to me. That this patient was my father, a man I had always known as a big, strong former football player – the kind of man other men didn’t dare cross (but who was also loving and gentle) – was difficult for me to process. Yet, here I was, being guided to his hospital room by the sound of his cries. Despite being a trained philosopher with an interest in bioethics, I had not yet begun to think about the ways in which racialized health disparities manifest even at the end of life. My father’s excruciatingly painful process of dying was but one example.
Gaps while living, gaps while dying
It is well documented that African-Americans experience excess mortality, or deaths beyond the expected mortality rate. However, even if disparities in the mortality rate for African-Americans were rectified tomorrow, the fact remains that we will all eventually die. And how we die matters.
According to a 2013 Pew Research survey, 72 percent of American adults have given at least some thought to their end of life wishes, with 37 percent of American adults having given their end of life wishes a “great deal of thought.” Some of these wishes include decisions about pain management, maintaining quality of life, and whether to continue aggressive medical treatment for terminal illness.
Additionally, research shows that people tasked with making treatment decisions for loved ones who cannot express their own wishes sometimes experience distress about watching their loved one suffer. Even months or years later, they wonder whether they made the “right” decision.
Black patients generally receive worse pain management in primary care environments and emergency rooms. Even black children are not treated for their pain to the extent that white children are. Some attribute this to false beliefs about biological differences between black and white patients, including the belief that black people have “thicker skin” and, therefore, do not experience as much pain as whites. These false beliefs lead to inaccurate pain assessments by physicians evaluating black patients and an unwillingness to take the pain complaints of black patients as seriously.
This disparity in black patients’ pain management continues even as black patients are dying. Families often want to ensure that their loved ones are as comfortable as possible once patients reach the point where death is near. Racialized gaps in pain management lead to a denial of humane comfort care that contributes to unnecessary suffering for black patients and their loved ones.
Inadequate pain management is but one aspect of the lower quality of care that black patients report in general that affects when and how black patients die. In December 2015, 57 year-old Barbara Dawson was arrested and forcibly removed from Calhoun Liberty Hospital near Tallahassee, Florida, after she refused to leave without further treatment. Although she had been evaluated in the hospital, she was discharged despite her continued complaints of difficulty breathing. Hospital personnel apparently assumed she was faking her symptoms and called police to arrest her for being disruptive. Dawson collapsed before she could be placed in the police cruiser and was returned to the hospital where she died an hour later from an undetected blood clot in her lungs.
Dawson may or may not have been at the end of life when she arrived at the hospital. However, hospital staff allowed her condition to deteriorate by not taking her complaints seriously. She died only feet away from people who could have, at minimum, eased her process of dying. The hospital was later fined US$45,000, and Dawson’s estate settled a lawsuit against the hospital for $200,000 in 2017.
Dawson’s experience is a dramatic and appalling case. Nevertheless, one groundbreaking study revealed that physicians generally interact less – both verbally and nonverbally – with black patients who are dying than with white patients who are dying. At the end of their lives, black patients do not receive the same comfort care, including eye contact and touch, from physicians that white patients do.
The U.S. health care system can improve care for all patients at the end of life. However, this system still denies black patients the kinds of interventions that white patients often take for granted. This denial contributes to more painful, horrific deaths of black patients and compounds the grief of their loved ones.
In my father’s case, even as part of me still hoped for a miracle, the thing I wanted most in the world was for him to be as comfortable as possible. That this did not happen despite my best efforts still haunts me when I think about the end of my father’s life.
As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.
1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.
2. Home by Toni Morrison
The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.
3. How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.
4. God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson
James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.
5. The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates
From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.
6. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Citizenis an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”
7. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.
8. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.
9. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.
10. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.
11. Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals
In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.
In the current polarized climate, it’s easy to find yourself in the midst of a political disagreement that morphs into a religious argument. People’s religious affiliation predicts their stances on abortion, immigration and other controversial topics, and disagreements about these issues can seem intractable.
The seeming futility in arguing about politics and religion may arise partly because people misunderstand the nature of these beliefs. Many people approach an ideological disagreement the same way they would a disagreement about facts. If you disagree with someone about when water freezes, facts are convincing. It’s easy to think that if you disagree with someone about immigration, facts will be similarly persuasive.
This might work if people’s ideological beliefs worked the same way as their factual beliefs – but they don’t. As psychologists who focus on religious and moral cognition, my colleagues and I are investigating how people understand that these are two separate classes of belief. Our work suggests that an effective strategy for disagreement involves approaching ideological beliefs as a combination of fact and opinion.
Religious statements were typically preceded by the phrase “believe that” rather than “think that.” Phrases like “I believe that Jesus turned water into wine” were relatively common, whereas phrases like “I think that Jesus turned water into wine” were nearly nonexistent.
In four subsequent experiments, we asked adults to complete sentences like “Zane __ that Jesus turned water into wine.” Participants were more likely to use “believes” for religious and political claims and “thinks” for factual claims.
Taken together, these results suggest that people distinguish between factual beliefs, on the one hand, and religious and political claims, on the other.
Rather than equating ideologies and facts, people appear to view ideologies as a combination of fact and opinion. In two earlier studies, 5- to 10-year-old children and adults learned about pairs of characters who disagreed about religious, factual and opinion-based statements. For example, we told participants that one person thought that God could hear prayers while the other didn’t, or that two other people disagreed about whether or not blue is the prettiest color. Participants said that only one person could be right nearly every time they heard a factual disagreement, but they gave this answer less often when they heard a religious disagreement and less often still when they heard an opinion-based disagreement.
This result may occur because children and adults think that different types of beliefs provide different information. Participants told us that factual claims reveal information about the world, whereas opinions reveal information about the speaker. They also reported that religious claims reveal a moderate amount of information about both the world and the speaker. People who say that God exists are ostensibly making a claim about what kinds of beings exist in the world – but not everyone would agree with that claim, so they are also revealing information about themselves.
Recognizing the difference in everyday life
So how can you use our results when a contentious topic arises outside the lab?
Yet this type of information alone is often insufficient to resolve disagreements. It’s addressing the part of ideological beliefs that is like a fact, the part where someone is trying to communicate information about the world. But it’s missing the part where ideological beliefs are also like an opinion. Without this part, saying, “Actually, evidence shows that X” sounds a lot like saying, “Actually, evidence proves that blue is not the prettiest color.” To be convincing, you need tools that address both the fact part and the opinion part of an ideology.
People rarely change their opinions because someone out-argued them. Rather, opinion-based change can come from exposure. People likethe familiar, even when that familiarity comes from the briefest of prior exposures. The same could occur for viewpoints that they’ve heard before.
What does exposure look like when talking about ideological disagreements? “Hmm. I actually think something different.” “I really appreciated the way my science tutor was patient with me when I didn’t understand evolution. The way she explained things made a lot of sense to me after a while.” “I’m going to donate money to groups helping asylum seekers. Do you want to join me?”
Maybe you say just one of these sentences, but others pick up where you left off. By walking around in the world, someone might encounter numerous counterpoints to their opinions, perhaps leading to gradual change as other views become more familiar.
It’s not anyone’s responsibility to say these sentences, least of all people who are being harmed by the disagreement. But for those in a position to change minds via repeated exposure, this strategy can be a helpful addition to the “managing disagreement” toolboxes everyone carries.
Every Easter weekend, several millions of Zion Christian Church (ZCC) faithful from across southern Africa descend on “Moria city”, the church’s capital in the north of the country, for their annual pilgrimage.
The church, founded by Engenas Lekganyane in 1925, is “the largest indigenous religious movement in southern Africa.” An estimated one in ten South Africans is a member, according to University Allan Anderson, Professor of Theology at University of Birmingham.
Both of these competing branches are headquartered at Moria, two kilometres apart on the same farm on which Engenas died and was buried. They hold separate pilgrimages and other events.
The regular members of the main branch are expected to wear Star badges at all times. For their part the St Engenas members sport Dove badges. Both organisations are similar in theology – a fusion of Christianity and traditional African beliefs. They prohibit drinking, smoking and eating pork, among other practices. The Star section has a distinctive men’s organisation.
The unrelenting growth of the ZCC has essentially sidelined the traditional Protestant churches that introduced Christianity to southern Africa. In addition to their vast membership base across the region, they also control extensive business empires in areas such as transport, agribusiness and insurance.
But, even though Lekganyane was central to the redefinition of Christianity in southern Africa, his life story has been extremely difficult to track down. Few written records have survived. In addition, the ZCC has always been secretive. Members are forbidden from discussing the church with outsiders.
Church writings are restricted to members and still cannot be found in public libraries. Researchers, from the 1940s onwards, were also stifled as the church sought to maintain tight control over its message and practices.
My new book, Engenas Lekganyane and the Early ZCC: An Unauthorized History sheds light on the enigmatic figure and foundations of his church. The full biography became possible after a substantial cache of new documentation emerged about Engenas and the ZCC in the last few years.
Who was Engenas Lekganyane?
The Lekganyanes were ordinary members of a small Pedi chieftaincy living in the hills east of Polokwane. They lived on land owned by German missionaries, and Engenas grew up as a Lutheran before a political disagreement erupted over a land dispute between the mission and the tribe.
In the late 1890s the young Engenas was educated by Xhosa Presbyterian missionaries brought in to replace the Lutherans. So Engenas had a very orthodox Protestant background and education.
Lekganyane’s education and life were completely disrupted following the outbreak of the South African War between the British and the Boers in 1899. He eventually became a migrant worker, leaving home to work in nearby Tzaneen and faraway Boksburg on municipal construction projects.
During these years he first joined Pentecostal or Zionist churches. But he was expelled from Tzaneen by the Protestant chief. Returning home in 1915 at the age of 30 he began his own church with 14 members. Within 10 years he had 926 followers and began the ZCC following a vision he had at the top of Mt Thabakgone, a now sacred hill adjacent to his village.
After a legal dispute involving the stillbirth of his illegitimate child, Lekganyane was expelled by his chief in 1930. He lived on private land thereafter, carefully maintaining his autonomy and privacy.
Making of the ZCC
Lekganyane was initially inspired by an Australian faith healer named John Alexander Dowie. He took most of his theology from the then white-led Apostolic Faith Mission a Pentecostal group he belonged to from 1910 to 1916.
He incorporated many syncretic practices taken from African tradition. The most important of these was to incorporate ancestral worship into his church, a practice that he adopted from an early Zionist named Daniel Nkonyane.
ZCC members were expected to make cash offerings to their ancestors, which they gave to Lekganyane so that he could intercede on their behalf. He also reputedly protected his members against witchcraft, crime and disease. Over time, he usurped the roles of the chiefs as the claimed major rainmaker in the region.
By 1948, his church had grown to about 50 000 members. His legend within the ZCC community has grown substantially ever since. Even though he left no writing texts behind, the ZCC has made him the focus of its sacred narrative. The story of his religious calling, and also his various claimed miracles and prophesies, are well known by all members.
One of the reasons he managed to turn the ZCC into a religious juggernaut was his financial astuteness. He acquired property and carefully used donations for expansion. Additionally, he catered primarily to migrant workers, the largest growing segment of the African population.
Engenas Lekganyane (c. 1885-1948) died 71 years ago on his private farm east of Polokwane.
During his lifetime, Lekganyane was never mentioned in print. Nor did anyone write his obituary following his rapid burial. He lived, to the end, a secretive and enigmatic existence.
For their supporters, the thousands of Christian schools across America are literally a blessing — a place where children can learn in accordance with biblical teachings, untainted by the secular norms of public schools.
To critics, many of these Christian schools venture too often into indoctrination, with teachings that can misrepresent science and history and potentially breed intolerance toward people with different outlooks.
“These schools are front and center in the politicization of knowledge and that’s problematic,” said Julie Ingersoll, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida.
The polarized views have been highlighted in recent days after the appearance of an #ExposeChristianSchools hashtag on Twitter. It was introduced by Chris Stroop, an Indianapolis-based writer and activist, on Jan. 18, shortly after news broke that Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, would be teaching at a Christian school in northern Virginia that lists “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity” as among the disqualifying criteria for prospective employees.
Stroop, 38, calls himself an “ex-evangelical.” He says he attended Christian schools in Indiana and Colorado almost continuously from first grade through high school and recalls pervasive messaging that demeaned LGBT people and discouraged the empowerment of women.
“Not everything about it was bad — I had teachers I liked who encouraged me academically,” said Stroop, who went on to earn a Ph.D. at Stanford. “But I don’t think education as indoctrination is right.”
The news about Karen Pence’s teaching job was quickly followed by debate over the behavior of boys from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky during a visit to Washington, D.C. While opinions varied widely as to whether the boys had behaved badly, that incident further fueled debate over faith-based schools.
Within days, there were thousands of responses to #ExposeChristianSchools on Twitter, including many personal stories of bad experiences by people who attended them.
One man said his school required students to sign an agreement promising not to listen to “worldly” music. Others faulted their curriculum, such as a Christian biology textbook that cited Scotland’s fabled Loch Ness Monster as evidence of flaws in Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Even as the critiques multiplied, many people took to Twitter to defend Christian schools. Among them was Greg Lukianoff, an attorney active in promoting freedom of speech on college campuses. He said he was an “outspoken atheist” beginning in the seventh grade and frequently skipped school.
“Only as an adult did I realize how kind & tolerant my Catholic high school was towards me,” he tweeted.
In a telephone interview Friday, Lukianoff said he had forged close friendships with people from religious and secular schools, and felt it was unproductive to generalize about them.
Even Brian Toale, a 65-year-old New Yorker who says he was repeatedly sexually abused in the early 1970s by a staffer at his Catholic high school on Long Island, recalls many positive aspects of his school years.
“The education itself was top notch,” he said. “I did have several extracurricular activities where I learned stuff and made friends I still have today.”
But Toale, who eventually converted to Judaism, says the school administration failed to properly vet the person who abused him, and later treated him with disdain when he reported the abuse.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 5.9 million students — a tenth of the national prekindergarten through 12th grade total — attend private schools in the U.S. About three-quarters of them attend one of the roughly 22,000 Christian schools.
By far, the Catholic Church accounts for the biggest share of this group, operating more than 6,300 schools serving more than 1.8 million students — about 20 percent of them non-Catholics. The totals are down sharply from the early 1960s when there were more than 5.2 million students in almost 13,000 Catholic schools nationwide.
The Council for American Private Education identifies 4,154 schools as “conservative Christian,” serving about 664,000 students.
Julie Ingersoll, the religious studies professor, says those schools are faring well, at least in the eyes of their supporters. She notes that many are now able to access publicly funded tax credits and vouchers in various states, and often can operate with limited regulation.
“But this leaves kids vulnerable on all kinds of levels, which of course was what the hashtag was about,” Ingersoll said in an email. “It’s been portrayed as a campaign against Christianity from ‘the left,’ but it was really a group of young adults who grew up in Christian schools (and Christian homeschooling) explaining how they believe they were personally harmed by it.”
“These harms were often related to sex, gender, shame, and abuse,” she wrote. “But stories also detailed impoverished education, especially when it came to science and history.”
The Rev. Russell Moore, a high-profile official with the Southern Baptist Convention, said the recent criticisms of Christian schools reflect some broader societal trends that have riled conservative religious leaders.
“There’s a certain mindset in America that sees any religious conviction as authoritarian,” Moore said.
Overall, Christian schooling “is in a very good place,” Moore said. “There are some phenomenal evangelical schools, preparing their children with remarkable academic rigor.”
John Gehring, Catholic program director at a Washington-based clergy network called Faith in Public Life, graduated from an all-male Catholic prep school near Baltimore. He has suggested in recent articles that such schools — while admirable in many ways — could do a better job of teaching their students about the church’s historical role in exploitation and oppression.
“I’m frustrated by the overheated commentary where Christian and public schools are almost viewed as enemy combatants in the culture wars,” Gehring said. “Each has their place, and like any institution they have strengths and weaknesses. The Catholic schools I attended through college shaped my understanding of justice and cultivated a spirituality that frames my life, even if those environments could sometimes be a little cloistered and privileged.”
Conceived about 50 years apart, both Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense galvanized frustration with police brutality against black people in the US.
Alicia Garza created Black Lives Matter, with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, as a call to action after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2013. The Black Panther Party was formed, in part, in reaction to the police killing of Matthew Johnson, an unarmed black 16-year-old, in San Francisco in 1966.
The commonalities between Black Lives Matter and the Black Panther Party are more striking when they are compared to the mid-20th-century civil rights movement, which took place when segregation was legal and black people protested politely and defensively.
According to filmmaker Stanley Nelson, it was important for civil rights leaders to win the hearts and minds of the press, a majority white American public, and a cautious black middle class. In an interview with NPR, he goes on to explain that civil rights organizers insisted, “‘we’re going to look proper…’ to show the difference between them and the mobs that would be chasing them or screaming at them.”
The Black Panthers were not interested in mainstream press or general public approval. They had their own newspaper designed, art-directed and heavily illustrated by Black Panther Party artist and Minister of Culture Emory Douglas. It showed images that would never appear in the mainstream press.
“Part of Douglas’s genius was that he used the visually seductive methods of advertising and subverted them into weapons of the revolution. His images served two purposes: to illustrate conditions that made revolution a reasonable response and to construct a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimized.”
The Black Panther newspaper showed photographic evidence of police brutality along with editorial drawings and cartoons illustrating black people fighting back.
Each movement used available media to reach broad constituencies and stimulate action.
The Panthers’ messages were instructive, visual, and covered a range of ambitions, included in the party’s 10-point platform.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” may seem deceptively simple to those who receive the words as a veiled threat. Perhaps they believe that equality has been achieved and systemic and institutionalized racism no longer exist.
In the 50 years since segregation and legal discrimination ended and the US tried to “move past” its racist history, much of that history was ignored and effectively forgotten. Blacks and whites have differing perceptions of how much progress has been made on racial equality. Polls show that white millennials have about the same racial viewpoints as baby boomers.
This racial knowledge vacuum does not allow some people to believe that black people and other people of color are routinely treated more harshly by police and law enforcement officers. Black Lives Matter’s insistence on presenting evidence of inequality is disturbing to these deniers.
At the time of the Black Panthers, just a few years after civil rights legislation, most black people still lived in poverty with substandard everything – from housing to schools to health care. Even though the political establishment disagreed on what should be done to change it, no one denied there was a problem.
Disruption and pushback
As activist Deray McKesson points out, “protest is confrontation and disruption.” In addition to protesting at the time and scene of controversial police events, Black Lives Matter protesters disrupt everyday life and activities, which creates pushback.
Black Lives Matter organizer Netta Elize explained why the protests must happen at seemingly nonrelated events. She said, “Black people in the US do not have free space to live. The ability to participate in everyday activities without having to think about race is a privilege.”
In their time, the Panthers were marginalized and vilified, limiting their main sphere of public operations to college campuses and other left-friendly venues. Only the most fear-producing images of Panthers appeared in mainstream press, reiterating the FBI’s claim that the organization was the greatest threat to national security.
Like the Black Panther Party, Black Lives Matter protesters use elements of “visual theater.” The Panthers’ carefully constructed visual presence included uniforms for members, creating icons for party members that represented strength, purpose, and discipline. As Stanley Nelson’s film points out, the Panthers understood media and the power of visual images.
Black Lives Matter uses visual tactics such as light brigades and more theatrical “die-ins,” to convey an omnipresent threat of violence or death.
To comment on current conditions for black people in the US, artist Emory Douglas repurposed one of his drawings – 39 years after its original appearance in November 1976 in the pages of The Black Panther newspaper – to promote Black Lives Matter.
The original image, he said, was about justice in general, not a specific event. In the new version, Douglas made the scales of justice even larger.
As long as unresolved historic injustices continue to fester in the world, there will be a demand for truth commissions.
Unfortunately, there is no end to the need.
The goal of a truth commission — in some forms also called a truth and reconciliation commission, as it is in Canada — is to hold public hearings to establish the scale and impact of a past injustice, typically involving wide-scale human rights abuses, and make it part of the permanent, unassailable public record. Truth commissions also officially recognize victims and perpetrators in an effort to move beyond the painful past.
Over the past three decades, more than 40 countries have, like Canada, established truth commissions, including Chile, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and South Korea. The hope has been that restorative justice would provide greater healing than the retributive justice modelled most memorably by the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War.
There has been a range in the effectiveness of commissions designed to resolve injustices in African and Latin American countries, typically held as those countries made transitions from civil war, colonialism or authoritarian rule.
Its effectiveness is still being measured, with a list of 94 calls to action waiting to be fully implemented. But Canada’s experience appears to have been at least productive enough to inspire Australia and New Zealand to come to terms with their own treatment of Indigenous peoples by exploring similar processes.
Although both countries have a long history to trying to reconcile with native peoples, recent discussions have leaned toward a Canadian-style TRC model.
But the most recognizable standard became South Africa’s, when President Nelson Mandela mandated a painful and necessary Truth and Reconciliation Commission to resolve the scornful legacy of apartheid, the racist and repressive policy that had driven the African National Congress, including Mandela, to fight for reform. Their efforts resulted in widespread violence and Mandela’s own 27-year imprisonment.
Through South Africa’s publicly televised TRC proceedings, white perpetrators were required to come face-to-face with the Black families they had victimized physically, socially and economically.
There were critics, to be sure, on both sides. Some called it the “Kleenex Commission” for the emotional hearings they saw as going easy on some perpetrators who were granted amnesty after demonstrating public contrition.
Others felt it fell short of its promise — benefiting the new government by legitimizing Mandela’s ANC and letting perpetrators off the hook by allowing so many go without punishment, and failing victims who never saw adequate compensation or true justice.
These criticisms were valid, yet the process did succeed in its most fundamental responsibility — it pulled the country safely into a modern, democratic era.
Similarly, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not designed to take South Africa to some idyllic utopia. After a century of colonialism and apartheid, that would not have been realistic. It was designed to save South Africa, then a nuclear power, from an implosion — one that many feared would trigger a wider international war.
To the extent that the commission saved South Africa from hell, I think it was successful. Is it a low benchmark? Perhaps, but it did its work.
Since then, other truth commissions, whether they have included reconciliation or reparation mandates, have generated varying results.
Some have been used cynically as tools for governments to legitimize themselves by pretending they have dealt with painful history when they have only kicked the can down the road.
In Liberia, where I worked with a team of researchers last summer, the records of that country’s truth and reconciliation commission are not even readily available to the public. That secrecy robs Liberia of what should be the most essential benefit of confronting past injustices: permanent, public memorialization that inoculates the future against the mistakes of the past.
U.S. needs truth commission
On balance, the truth commission stands as an important tool that can and should be used around the world.
It’s painfully apparent that the United States needs a national truth commission of some kind to address hundreds of years of injustice suffered by Black Americans. There, centuries of enslavement, state-sponsored racism, denial of civil rights and ongoing economic and social disparity have yet to be addressed.
Like many, I don’t hold out hope that a U.S. commission will be established any time soon – especially not under the current administration. But I do think one is inevitable at some point, better sooner than later.
Wherever there is an ugly, unresolved injustice pulling at the fabric of a society, there is an opportunity to haul it out in public and deal with it through a truth commission.
Still, there is not yet any central body or facility that researchers, political leaders or other advocates can turn to for guidance, information, and evidence. Such an entity would help them understand and compare how past commissions have worked — or failed to work — and create better outcomes for future commissions.
As the movement to expose, understand and resolve historical injustices grows, it would seem that Canada, a stable democracy with its own sorrowed history and its interest in global human rights, would make an excellent place to establish such a center.
Jackie Robinson will be remembered for his courage, athleticism, tenacity and sacrifice on Jan. 31, the centennial of his birth. By confronting Jim Crow – both as a baseball player and as a civil rights activist – he changed America.
“Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable,” Martin Luther King Jr. said of Robinson, “he underwent … the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking through the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”
I’ve written three books about Robinson, in addition to dozens of columns and articles. I used to wonder how Robinson persevered in the face of so much hate and ugliness. He was certainly as tough a competitor as any athlete who ever lived, and he had an unwavering religious faith.
But I eventually realized that he couldn’t have achieved what he did without his wife, Rachel, whose spirit was as formidable as his own.
Sure, he had his mother, Mallie; his minister, Karl Downs; Brooklyn Dodgers’ president, Branch Rickey, who signed him; and sportswriter Wendell Smith, who served as his ghostwriter and confidante.
Rachel, however, was the only constant.
“She was not simply the dutiful wife,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roger Wilkins said about Rachel. “She had to live through the death threats, endure the vile screams of the fans and watch her husband get knocked down by pitch after pitch. … She was beautiful and wise and replenished his strength and courage.”
Rachel Isum met Jackie Robinson at UCLA when she was a freshman and he was a senior. Jackie was a four-letter athlete and “a big man on campus,” as she described him.
They married five years later on Feb. 10, 1946, a few months after Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey signed Jackie to play for the organization’s top minor league team, the Montreal Royals.
Two-and-a-half weeks after the wedding, the Robinsons left the relative comfort of Los Angeles to go to spring training in Florida. Robinson would have to confront both baseball’s color line and the Jim Crow laws of the South, where blacks who challenged segregation risked jail, injury or death.
Rachel knew she and Jackie could not react to every racial epithet hurled their way. But she wasn’t averse to quiet forms of resistance. When their plane stopped in New Orleans on their flight to Florida, Rachel saw something she had never seen before: separate restrooms for “white women” and “colored women.” She defiantly walked into restroom marked “white women.”
During that first spring training, segregation laws prohibited the Robinsons from staying in the same oceanfront hotel in Daytona Beach with his white teammates. Nor could they eat in white restaurants. They stayed with a black family and ate their meals in a black restaurant.
Robinson, feeling the weight of representing millions of black Americans, struggled during the beginning of spring training. He had trouble hitting, and he hurt his throwing arm so badly that he could barely lift it.
Rachel calmed Jackie every night in their small room, massaging his sore arm as he raged against the indignities he faced on and off the field. She also learned she was pregnant while they were in Daytona Beach, but decided not to tell him.
“There was such an incredible amount of pressure, it might have driven two people apart,” she told Sports Illustrated in 2013. “But it had the opposite effect on us, it pushed us together.”
At some point, as Rachel later told Robinson biographer Arnold Rampersad, Jackie began to refer to himself not as “I” but as “we.” Jackie and Rachel were united as civil rights activists; they knew, as Rachel put it, “that the issue wasn’t simply baseball but life and death, freedom and bondage, for a lot of people.”
As the spring progressed, Jackie’s arm improved and so did his confidence. He played the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals before being promoted to the Dodgers the next spring. He established himself as one of the best players in the National League. But the racist epithets continued to rain down on him from the stands and the dugouts of opposing teams.
Rachel was determined to make their home a refuge from that malevolence, whether the Robinsons were living in Montreal, New York City, or later, in Stamford, Connecticut.
“We had a pledge to each other that we were going to try to keep the house a haven,” she said. “Someplace safe. Someplace we didn’t have to replay the mess outside.”
Rachel raised their three children while her husband was playing baseball and crusading for civil rights. After earning her master’s degree, she worked as a nurse-therapist and researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. She then taught nursing at Yale University while she served as director of the Connecticut mental health center.
After Jackie died, Rachel created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has provided scholarships for 1,400 college students.
When the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” was released in 2013, Brian Helgeland, the film’s writer and director, asked Rachel what she thought of the film.
“I loved how much we kissed,” Helgeland recalled Rachel telling him. “And then she got emotional,” he continued. “It was the only thing she ever said to me about the finished film. And it hit me: Her take-away from the whole thing was that she got to see her husband one more time.”
President Trump greets people as he arrives to speak during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Earlier this month, two important conservative writers explained why honorable Republicans are strongly considering a challenge to Donald Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Writing in The Bulwark, an online publication that took on former staff from the recently shuttered Trump-skeptical conservative journal The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last persuasively argues that a primary challenge to Trump should be expected. Of the last nine incumbent presidents who stood for re-election, five were contested for re-nomination. Trump is almost sure to be one of them; Last has already previewed five potential challengers.
A few days later, in a powerful Washington Post op-ed, Stephen F. Hayes framed the primary challenge as a necessity for the well being of the country and something all people of goodwill should expect and support.
But the coming primary challenge has zero chance of success unless a significant number of white evangelicals, who gave the race-baiting billionaire 81 percent of their votes in 2016, get off of Trump’s Road to Reelection before 2020.
Neither of the two conservative writers above discusses the possibility of evangelicals parting ways with Trumpism. Political observers seem to assume that Trump’s conservative Christian base will follow him no matter what.
And why not? Some of his evangelical disciples have explicitly said there is nothing he could do to lose their support.
Yet a divorce is not impossible, and it won’t require white conservatives to suddenly back a Democrat. Trump’s white evangelical support has already fallen in the wake of chaos in the administration and the longest government shutdown in history. If the walls continue to close in around the president, he may yet lose even more support.
That may come as a surprise to those who think that Trump has brainwashed evangelicals somehow into believing he will restore a Christian America. Though many commentators, including me, have often questioned how the unchristian Trump could mesmerize professed believers, the truth is that the brainwashing began with the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. If you tell people for 35 years that they must vote for one party as a matter of religious devotion because the other party is so god-awful, they do it.
But what politics grants, politics can take away. The white Christians, Protestant and Catholic, who embraced Donald Trump made a fairly ordinary bargain in our transactional, interest-group-oriented politics, even if it looks strange for people whose Savior preached and practiced holiness: they gave their votes in exchange for a promise to enact their agenda.
That’s why they could be taken back by a candidate who makes a serious effort to offer them a decent Republican alternative, a person who does not destroy their integrity or make a mockery of their supposed values. And for the sake of the country and the Party of Lincoln, every patriot must hope it succeeds.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan departs after his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 16, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. Hogan is the first Republican governor to be re-elected in the state since the 1950s. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Republican leaders have already begun encouraging potential candidates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is reportedly considering a primary challenge to Trump, contrasts with the president in ways that should matter. He is a decent and competent man of quiet strength and dignity. Hogan would give social conservatives almost everything Trump has offered but will not demand they squander their integrity as a down payment.
A cancer survivor who leaned on his faith during that battle, he has a story that resonates, and, perhaps more importantly, is a proven fighter — anyone facing off against Trump will have to prove his willingness to stand up to the president’s excesses in ways that will invite and inspire conservative evangelicals and Catholics.
The most obvious group of defectors are those who will jump at any other candidate with conservative policy views. For these people, the 2016 nominating contest led them to Trump by default. In that crowded primary season, a majority of voters preferred a candidate other than Donald Trump, but studies show that some subset of voters simply wants to “back a winner.”
If 2019 unfolds badly for Trump and he looks weak in 2020, many voters, even evangelicals, will flock to a superior candidate, especially if she or he looks, talks and acts like a winner.
President Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Oct. 26, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Others agreed to vote for Trump because they expected that he would rise to the stature of the office. They may now accept that he won’t. Even those who expected a certain amount of incompetence, corruption, and lies may be persuaded to think that a line has been crossed.
My conversations with Washington insiders have convinced me that the primary challenge will happen. If it does, Trump-skeptical evangelical leaders who are despondent about the past three years need to do everything they can to support the effort, even if behind the scenes.
I have opposed evangelical Trumpism from the beginning. Some of those supporters are members of my own family. As long as there is a chance for decency and honor to prevail, I will make the case to them. I will not give up on my family, just as I will not give up on my country.
I will work alongside evangelical friends who stand on the biblical promise, “Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle” (Psalm 18:39). The 2020 GOP primary is a fight for the soul of conservatism. Evangelicals should not sit it out, and it cannot be won without them.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.
We don’t mean to lie, but when someone asks us how we’re doing, it is much easier to say that we are “fine” or “blessed” than to tell the whole truth. The reality is that we are not always fine. There are times when we are going through hell. We face personal hell—conflict in close relationships, failing health, toxic work environments, financial struggle, church hurt, and other distress. If that wasn’t enough, in the age of moral decline, we are also going through hell in the social and political landscape of our lives with political maneuvering, state-sanctioned violence against Black people at the hands of police, pervasive patriarchy and gender inequality, and racial disparities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Even if you are not distressed personally, with increased access to information, we are constantly bombarded with bad news, which can wear on our hearts and minds. Whatever hell you are going through, we offer these eight suggestions to pull yourself up:
Breathe: In times of stress and hardship, notice your breathing. Often when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing tends to be shallow. Research has shown that deep breathing lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. A simple breathing technique to try is to sit upright, shoulders relaxed, arms resting by your sides, with your eyes closed. Inhale through your nose for five counts, then exhale through your mouth for five counts, repeating this process 3-10 times. If you find yourself in a persistent state of hell, make time daily for deep breathing to help release tension and stress. Deep breathing won’t make the issues go away, but it will calm you and clear your mind to face the issues.
Pray: In moments of trial, prayer is beneficial for many reasons. First, it invites us to pause and connect with God—to be reminded that we are deeply loved and are not alone. Second, prayer gives us an opportunity to release our burdens to the One who is able to bear the weight of all that we carry. Lastly, prayer reminds us that the hell we experience on earth is no comparison to the joy we will experience in the eternal presence of God, filling us with hope and power to forge ahead despite what we are facing.
Phone a Friend:In addition to divine connection, human connection is vital to our well-being. In particularly burdensome times, talking with a friend—whether via text, telephone, or in person—has a way of lifting your spirits. Be sure to connect with friends who will listen deeply and empathize with you; I am reminded of the story of Job in the Bible when he was going through hell and his friends showed up. They cried with him and sat with him in his pain. Their presence comforted him greatly and did not become a nuisance until later in the story when they began to insert their thoughts and opinions about what he was going through instead of simply being with him.
Play:In our culture and society, play is viewed as children’s business or trivial, but I would argue that play and movement are necessary for well-being, especially when in the midst of hardship. Think about it: In elementary school, even the most stressful days and bickering amongst friends was cured by a game of kickball, double-dutch, or running around on the jungle gym. Recreation has a way of creating us again and invigorating us for life. My preferred play is running. Join a pick-up game of basketball, head to the bowling alley with friends, or dance with reckless abandon with your children. Whatever you do, allow yourself to engage in an activity that brings you joy and gets you moving!
Count Your Blessings:There is something about a posture of gratitude that helps to encourage us. When going through hell and everything seems to be going wrong, recounting the aspects of life that are going well and the people and things we are grateful for is an instant mood lifter. There is a saying, “I have more to be thankful for than to complain about” and when we think about and name our blessings, the pressure of our problems is allayed.
Repeat a Mantra: Mantras are typically not associated with Christianity; however the word mantra simply means to think. It is a thought, word or phrase repeated to inspire, motivate, ground, or calm an individual. A mantra can be a quotation from Scripture that encourages you to persevere through tough times or a phrase that cultivates and strengthens your faith and resolve in times of suffering. I have a friend who when faced with obstacles that appear insurmountable repeats the mantra, “God is bigger!” It’s has helped her get through many distressing situations.
Extend Yourself Grace:Sometimes we can be especially hard on ourselves, even when we are going through difficult times. The reality is that the expectations we have of ourselves we would never have of others if they found themselves in situations that mirror our own. When I am going through hell, trying to keep things together, I find it helpful to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. This means reminding myself that I’m doing the best I can or permitting myself to rest. It also means speaking kindly to myself when I fall short.
Recognize that this is temporary:In the moment, it often feels like the hellish experiences that we are having will last forever, but the operative word in the phrase going through hell is “” When facing various trials and tribulations, it is important to remember that where we are is not where we’ll always be; There will come a day when this hell will be a distant memory, and a testament to your grace, strength, resilience, and resolve.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, standing outside of Oakland’s city hall, formally kicked off her campaign for the White House on Sunday, presenting herself as the leader who can best unite an America that is at an “inflection point” and facing a critical question.
“We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” Harris said. “And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America, we are better than this.”
Harris, a first-term U.S. senator from California who announced her candidacy last Monday, rallied thousands of supporters at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, her hometown and where she served as a prosecutor before becoming the state attorney general.
Harris invoked the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 when he announced that he would challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that Kennedy said “at stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country, it is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”
Harris added, “So today I say to you, my friends: These are not ordinary times, and this will not be an ordinary election, but this is our America.”
Harris’ campaign is filled with historic possibility. If she ultimately wins the White House she would be the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president.
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, said that as she and her sister, Maya Harris, grew up in the East Bay they were “raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country, and a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled.”
She has attributed her decision to become a lawyer and a prosecutor to her upbringing, and said Sunday that she and her sister were “raised to believe that public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility.”
She said she is running “with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother.”
Harris’s launch has drawn heavily on symbolism. She officially entered the race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Campaign aides say she has drawn inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, a New York congresswoman who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for president from a major party.
Harris’ first news conference as a candidate was on the campus of Howard University, the historically black college in the nation’s capital that she attended as an undergraduate. On Friday, she was in South Carolina to speak to members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member. Other members of the group, wearing traditional pink and green, were on hand at Sunday’s rally.
Her choice of Oakland for her campaign launch was both biographical and symbolic. The state of California has played a leading role in resistance to the presidency of Donald Trump. And Oakland itself, where she was born and spent her formative years, has a history of activism. The plaza outside City Hall where Harris spoke once housed Occupy Oakland’s encampment. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he picked the site for his first Bay Area campaign event.
Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called it “fitting” that Harris chose “the most liberal district in deep-blue California to launch her campaign.”
Harris’ campaign is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor as part of her rationale for seeking the presidency. Harris was the first black woman elected district attorney in California, as well as the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to hold that job.
On Sunday, she said she has long known the criminal justice system to be “deeply flawed” but that she also knew the “profound impact law enforcement has on people’s lives and its responsibility to give them safety and dignity.”
Harris said throughout her life she has “only had one client: the people,” echoing the words she has used in courtrooms and has adopted as her campaign’s slogan.
Harris also did not shy away from taking on Trump directly, saying the U.S. welcomes refugees and calling the wall that Trump wants to build at the southern border a “medieval vanity project” that would not actually stop transnational gangs, which she noted she battled as state attorney general. She also said that, as president, she would “always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will tell the truth.”
Harris is among the first major Democrats to jump into what is expected to be a crowded 2020 presidential contest.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have announced exploratory committees. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Julian Castro, federal housing chief under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, already are in the race.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may also run.
After the rally, Harris planned to her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate. In the weeks before last November’s elections, she traveled to the leadoff caucus state to campaign on behalf of Democrats, and also visited other early-voting states.
Harris’s campaign will be based in Baltimore and led by Juan Rodriguez, who managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Aides say the campaign will have a second office in Oakland.
Natalie Manuel Lee, a California native, fashion stylist/influencer, is the executive producer and host of Hillsong Channel’s newest series, “Now with Natalie,” premiering on March 3. The series is a fresh, relevant, and necessary examination into the depths of the Christian millennial experience. Featuring guests such as Kelly Rowland, Tyson Chandler, and Hailey Bieber, the series focuses on purpose and identity, the blessing and curse that is social media, and staying grounded in a culture that glamorizes status over self-care. With its countercultural “it’s not what you think” approach, “Now with Natalie” is sure to set a precedent in the modern Christian narrative. Ahead of the premier, Urban Faith sat down with Natalie to find out more about her new series, what inspired the idea, and her personal journey of staying grounded in a hustle and bustle society.
WHAT INSPIRED “NOW WITH NATALIE”?
I saw a need. A plight of this generation is to glorify the one in a position instead of seeing the purpose behind that position. The idea behind the show is to dismantle counterfeit definitions of identity and purpose and to pull back the veil of false narratives that culture tends to push. What we do and what we have cannot define our worth and value. Our identity should be rooted in who we are and whose we are. I personally have wrestled with these concepts before and wanted to have authentic conversations to shed light on this.
WHAT TOPICS DO YOU FOCUS ON IN “NOW WITH NATALIE”?
The show will focus almost exclusively on the topics of purpose and identity. Because it is such a deep and pervasive wound, the series will focus on dissecting these topics from different perspectives and experiences.
WHICH INTERVIEWS ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?
Honestly, I am excited about all of them. Each episode serves a different purpose. You will hear about experiences ranging from the music industry, professional athletes, professionals in the area of cognitive neuroscience, and more. Each episode is enlightening and is intended to make you feel more free after watching.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU BELIEVE SOCIAL MEDIA HAS ON SELF WORTH?
Social media can be the greatest blessing, but also the biggest curse. When misused, social media can fuel inadequacy. As humans, we tend to compare and want to compete based off what we scroll through on these highlight reels. A lot of our thoughts come from what we see and, for some, this level of comparison has peaked the epidemic of depression and anxiety. I always advocate taking periodic social media fasts, and just deleting the apps when needed.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE HAPPINESS?
As a mental perspective. When you truly know who you are and what you’re defined by, happiness will arrive. I think about happiness as joy, and the joy of the Lord is my strength. I constantly revert back to the truth of who I am, and the truth of who God is. Happiness and joy align with those truths.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK-LIFE BALANCE ROUTINE?
I start my mornings still. I give myself time in the morning, and spend time with God. The biggest lesson I have learned in the last decade is to not abort the process God is putting me through, and to keep my eyes fixed on the bigger picture. God created us each with a very specific and unique life blueprint, and He has equipped us to navigate it without looking to the left or to the right in comparison. God graces each of us to run our own unique race.
Tarana Burke seen on day two of Summit LA18 in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
2018 was a whirlwind year for Tarana Burke, the founder of the “Me Too” movement. During the latter part of 2017, the long-time activist skyrocketed to fame as the phrase “Me Too” became a uniting force for victims of sexual violence. On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano sent a tweet in response to initial reports of allegations that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted numerous women. The tweet asked women who had been sexually assaulted to reply ” me too.”
That tweet made waves. Days later, millions of people used the hashtag #MeToo across social media, many of whom initially credited Milano with starting the “Me Too” movement. But Burke’s work on behalf of sexual assault survivors had been known long before Milano’s viral tweet, and it was black women who collectively spoke up to tell the actress that Burke had founded a “Me Too” movement over a decade before, during a time when there were no hashtags. Milano, who was unaware of the activist’s work, tweeted an apology. She also publicly credited Burke, and reached out to ask Burke how she could help amplify her work.
The two women traveled the media circuit together, appearing on “Meet the Press.”
Soon, organizations began to celebrate Burke in her own right. In March, she was honored at the 2018 Academy Awards. She appeared on magazine covers, including one of the six covers of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” issue, where actress Gabrielle Union, also a survivor of sexual assault, penned an essay calling Burke a “kindred spirit.”
The Bronx-born activist was the guest editor for ESSENCE magazine’s November issue, where she spoke about the future of the movement. She oversaw an edition filled with essays dedicated to black women’s right to heal after sexual violence and articles about the culture of silence around the sexual assault of black women and girls.
In an interview, the mother of “Me Too” said she never imagined she’d be in such a position of visibility. But, she didn’t feel like a hero. Instead, she told the magazine, she felt “dutiful,” and much of that duty was to ensure that black women weren’t shut out of the “Me Too” movement. While Milano’s intent wasn’t to steal Burke’s work, her celebrity status did catapult the conversation around sexual assault into the media, particularly in a way that resonated with white women. And it pained Burke to see black women erased from the narrative.
“The world responds to the vulnerability of white women,” she told ESSENCE. “Our narrative has never been centered in mainstream media. Our stories don’t get told and, as a result, it makes us feel not as valuable.”
In November, she also spoke about her duty to re-center the mission of “Me Too.” During her first TED talk, a speech dedicated to survivors and activists, she described how the past year had been an emotional roller coaster.
“This movement is constantly being called a watershed moment. Even a reckoning. But I wake up some days feeling that all evidence points to the contrary,” Burke told the audience.
A year later, “Me Too” was described as a “culture shock.” Harvey Weinstein was indicted. Bill Cosby was finally sentenced to prison in September for allegations of rape which were reignited after comedian Hannibal Buress mocked Cosby during a stand-up routine in 2014.
Despite the success of “Me Too,” Burke said the movement had become unrecognizable at times, as people, including the media, presented and interpreted “Me Too” as a vindictive plot against men, instead of as a voice of support for survivors. Her speech was a call to refocus the energy of the movement on survivors of sexual assault.
She also called to dismantle the building blocks of sexual violence: power and privilege.
Now, in 2019, it seems like her two key missions of the “Me Too” movement: visibility for black female survivors of sexual violence and the dismantling of power and privilege will finally converge.
Burke appeared in Lifetime’s six-hour docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly.”
The three-night special is a deep dive into the background of singer R. Kelly and the decades of sexual assault allegations against him, weaving testimonies of his alleged victims — all black and brown women — with interviews from their friends, parents and teachers. Burke is part of a team of experts, including activists, journalists, and cultural critics, assembled to shed light on why the singer’s history of abuse — while heavily reported — has been ignored.
Burke has devoted her career to working at the intersection of racial justice and sexual violence, and she spent significant time in Selma laying the groundwork that would later evolve into the “Me Too” movement.
In October, days before the one-year anniversary of the tweet that launched “Me Too” on social media, Burke returned to Alabama to talk about her roots as an activist.
For Burke, that appearance was indeed a homecoming, as she stood before her elders. This included Rose Sanders, her mentor during her formative years in Selma, who waved at her from the third row of an auditorium in UAB’s Alys Stephens Center.
It was a semi-full circle moment. In March, Sanders, who made history in 1973 as the state’s first African American female judge, proudly told a room full of people in the Dallas County courthouse during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee that Burke started the “Me Too” movement in Selma.
As Burke took the stage to cheers and a standing ovation, she paid homage to her elders.
“I know I have my family from Selma here,” she said, lovingly holding out her hands. “You all are part of my story.”
“People keep thanking me for coming to Birmingham,” said Burke, smiling widely as the audience simmered down. “That’s because they don’t know I have ties to Alabama. I relish the opportunity to come here.”
For close to an hour, Burke talked about her childhood, her early years in Selma, and the life-changing moment that would lead her to start the movement known as “Me Too.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Burke was groomed to be an activist as a child.
“I had a normal family,” Burke told the audience. “Except for I had a grandfather that was a Garveyite.” Her grandfather, a close follower of the teachings of Marcus Garvey, made sure she was well versed in the readings of black liberation. On car rides, they would listen to cassette tapes of John Henrik Clarke, a native of Union Springs, Al. who was a scholar and pioneer in the field of Africana studies.
“You can read that Bible, but make sure you have your history right along with that,” she said he’d tell her.
Burke’s mother, while she never referred to herself as a feminist, surrounded Burke with the works of Audre Lorde and Patricia Hill Collins.
“I was wrapped in Black feminist literature growing up.”
Burke was discovered at age 14 by the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, an organization founded by Rose Sanders in 1985 to educate young people about voting rights and the political process. And it was through that organization that Burke says she learned about the impact youth could have.
“That was the first time an adult had said to me, ‘you have power now.’ ”
Through her work with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, she became an activist. One of the first cases she worked on would be the case of the Central Park Five, a group of black and latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park in 1989. Their sentences would be overturned decades later.
“It’s so funny how we talk about due process in the White House now,” referencing President Donald Trump, who in the 1980s took out full page ads in four of the city’s newspapers, calling for the return of the death penalty, but in 2018 demanded due process for former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and speechwriter David Sorensen after allegations of domestic abuse, and Brett Kavanaugh, his nominee to the Supreme Court who was faced with allegations of sexual assault.
HER JOURNEY TO ALABAMA
Burke traveled to Alabama for college where she continued to organize, starting at Alabama State before transferring to Auburn University.
“Your college campus is practice for the real world,” she told the audience.
After graduation, Burke went to work in Selma, where an experience changed the trajectory of her life.
While working as a camp counselor for the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, she met a girl she would describe to the audience as “Heaven.”
As a counselor, she had started workshops where young girls could speak openly and reveal stories about sexual violence and assault.
One day, Heaven made a beeline for her. Immediately, Burke said, she knew something was wrong. At first she avoided Heaven because she didn’t feel equipped to provide guidance for what she knew would be devastating news.
“I thought to myself ‘I’m not a counselor,’ said Burke. “But in my heart, I thought, that happened to me too.”
But in that moment, Burke said as she lowered her voice, those words didn’t seem like enough. But later, she realized that phrase was the one thing she needed to tell Heaven.
Burke told the audience she spent years afterwards feeling guilty. Over and over again, she’d ask “what difference does ‘me too’ make?”
Turns out, the phrase would make a lot of difference.
JUST BE, INC. : THE BEGINNING OF ME TOO
In Selma, Burke started Just Be, Inc., an organization focused on the health and well being of young girls of color. As the organization grew quickly, Burke noticed a pattern — when the girls gathered together, stories started spilling out. And when the girls shared their stories, Burke said, she’d always think about her encounter with Heaven.
As her work in a Selma junior high school continued, the stories from young girls kept coming and Burke started to notice a common thread. The girls told their stories as if they were normal experiences, not revealing painful secrets. None of the girls knew they were describing acts of sexual violence.
The tipping point came when Burke saw a 12- year-old student waiting for her “boyfriend” after school — a boyfriend who was 21 years old. To make matters worse, it was a man Burke already knew. He had been dating one of the girls at a local high school the year before.
“How do you tell a 7th grade girl that this is not a relationship, this is a crime?” said Burke.
She realized it was up to her to change and translate that wording into a conversation that young girls could understand.
“So we had to figure out how to simplify that language.”
DESIGNING THE TOOLS TO TALK ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT
Burke had previously read about how to teach young people to talk about sexual assault, but recognized no one was relaying those messages to girls.
“Nobody was speaking healing into our community,” said Burke. “How can we heal something that we can’t name?”
She and her team started off by teaching the girls ways to recognize sexual violence.
Burke started going into the community to find resources, starting with another junior high school.
She also went into a local rape crisis center, located next to a homeless shelter. But, that environment, said Burke, wasn’t a comfortable or safe space for young girls. In order to get to the crisis center, girls would have to walk past groups of men huddled outside of the center who would often yell catcalls.
Burke says that walk into the rape crisis center was the turning point.
“That day was the nugget,” said Burke. “Adult women don’t report sexual violence. Do you think these children would go through that?”
“THE BIRTH OF ‘ME TOO’ “
Looking into the audience, Burke reflected on guidance from her mentors in Selma
“An elder once told me: you have to take what you have to get what you need.”
With that advice, she started a Myspace page for her project to gain visibility. Her goal was simple: she wanted people to see the resources she’d compiled and the work she was doing.
Soon, Burke says, people started reaching out to thank her. She knew the next step was to distribute the resources to even more people.
“I remember sitting with my two friends in my living room and wondering ‘how are we going to make this work?’ ”
The method they came up with was simple — she and her friends packed the resources into glossy folders and shipped them out around the country.
Soon after, Burke left Selma to move to Philly.
THE AFTERNOON OF 2017
“I always intended for ‘Me Too’ to be a movement for survivors,” said Burke.
But for years, the challenge was getting people in the room to have the conversation about sexual assault.
“Filling up a room like this would be impossible,” said Burke, motioning to people sitting in the Alys Stephens Center.
She said she would have to reach out to churches to ask them to speak. She describes the tweet Milano sent in 2017 as a “lightning bolt” that gave life to the healing she had been trying to bring to young girls for more than two decades.
Alyssa Milano’s “me too” tweet reached millions on Twitter in 24 hours. On Facebook, there were more than 12 million comments, posts and reactions.
But she says she wasn’t upset that it took a viral hashtag to catapult her cause.
“What I care about is getting the room full now. We are just not comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Burke. “This is hard, but we have the ability to get this right.”
And getting it right, says Burke, means believing survivors and not blaming them for being victims of sexual assault.
“If we woke up and found out that 12 million people all had a disease, we wouldn’t ask ‘well, who were they touching?'” Burke remarked, a statement met with uproarious applause.
The focus, she says, should be on what happened and how to stop it.
But people have misconstrued the message of the movement to be about taking down powerful men.
Burke told the audience she was in the room when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that she was allegedly assaulted by Kavanaugh. She says powerful men like Kavanaugh were the “epitome” of unchecked power and privilege.
“This is the first time that we’ve seen any modicum of accountability in our lifetime,” said Burke. “This is not about crime and punishment. It’s about harm and harm reductions.”
But Burke knows why the “takedown” narrative has caught on: “if you say something over and over again, people will start to believe it.”
And now, says Burke, it’s time take back the focus in order reach communities of survivors who desperately need the help of the movement.
“Outside of Black women, it astonishes me that we have no conversations about native women and sexual violence.”
“ME TOO” IN ALABAMA
Rose Sanders had to leave the Alys Stephens center early, so she didn’t get to say a formal goodbye to the activist she once mentored. But she beamed with pride as she talked about Burke, the young student she took under her wing.
“It’s awesome. She’s true to her cause. And I’m glad she’s pushing 21st Century (Leaders). And I’m hoping she’ll do it more.”
Sanders says there’s an even greater need for community focused leadership development now, and wished there were more young people involved the struggle against sexual abuse.
“When I started (the organization) it was in 1985, 20 years after the civil rights movement. It became clear to me that very few young people even knew about the movement,” said Sanders. So we were fortunate enough to get people like John Lewis, Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson to come to our camps.”
But Sanders has plans to bridge the communication gap. She says she wants to build on Burke’s work, growing the “me too” movement into the “we too” movement.
“It’s not just about the survivors of the actual physical damage. It’s also about a mother who may not have been sexually abused, but has to suffer through (her child’s) abuse. It’s got to be “we too.”
This year, she plans to have workshops to educate attendees of the Bridge Crossing Jubilee about sexual assault, and has her vision set on bringing back Burke to speak on at least one of the panels.
“The people who are the actual victims of assault suffer the most damage, but so does everybody that’s connected to that child or that woman that’s been sexually violated,” said Sanders. “We too are also hurting and it’s going to take all of us to resolve it.”
And as Burke closed her speech, she also acknowledged that the movement was bigger than her, and challenged the room to take action after the lecture and challenge institutions to protect survivors and prevent sexual assault.
“I’m a 45-year-old black woman. It’s not enough to celebrate me if you’re not going to commit to ending sexual violence and the movement I stand for.” said Burke.
“This is really about people being able to walk through life with their dignity intact.”
Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Felix Tshisekedi celebrate at his headquarters in Kinshasa, Thursday Jan. 10, 2019. Supporters of Tshisekedi took to the streets of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, Thursday morning to celebrate his win in the presidential election, that was announced by the electoral commission. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Congo is on the brink of its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960 after the Constitutional Court on Sunday confirmed the presidential election victory of Felix Tshisekedi, although questions remain about the result.
Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is to be inaugurated on Tuesday.
Congo’s 80 million people did not appear to heed runner-up Martin Fayulu’s call for non-violent protests, and African neighbors began offering congratulations.
Shortly after the pre-dawn court declaration, opposition leader Tshisekedi said the court’s decision to reject claims of electoral fraud and declare him president was a victory for the entire country.
“It is Congo that won,” Tshisekedi said, speaking to supporters. “The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security.”
Supporters of his UDPS party celebrated in the streets of Kinshasa.
The largely untested Tshisekedi faces a government dominated by Kabila’s ruling party, which won a majority in legislative and provincial elections. The new National Assembly will be installed on Jan. 26.
However, Tshisekedi’s victory was rejected by rival opposition candidate Fayulu, who declared that he is Congo’s “only legitimate president” and called for the Congolese people to peacefully protest against a “constitutional coup d’etat.” If Fayulu succeeds in launching widespread protests it could keep the country in a political crisis that has simmered since the Dec. 30 elections.
The court turned away Fayulu’s request for a recount, affirming Tshisekedi won with more than 7 million votes, or 38 percent, and Fayulu received 34 percent.
The court said Fayulu offered no proof to back his assertions that he had won easily based on leaked data attributed the electoral commission. It also called unfounded another challenge that objected to the commission’s last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters over a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.
Outside the court, Fayulu and his supporters have alleged an extraordinary backroom deal by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to rig the vote in favor of Tshisekedi when the ruling party’s candidate did poorly.
“It’s a secret for no one inside or outside of our country that you have elected me president,” with 60 percent of the votes, Fayulu said. He urged the Congolese people and the international community to not recognize Tshisekedi as president.
Congo’s government called Fayulu’s statements “a shame.”
“We consider it an irresponsible statement that is highly politically immature,” spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press.
Many worried that the court’s rejection of Fayulu’s appeal could lead to more instability in a nation that already suffers from rebels, communal violence and the Ebola outbreak.
“It might produce some demonstrations, but it won’t be as intense as it was in 2017 and 2018,” when Congolese pushed for Kabila to step aside during two years of election delays, said Andrew Edward Tchie, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The African Union said it had “postponed” its urgent mission to Congo planned for Monday after it noted “serious doubts” about the vote and made an unprecedented request for Congo to delay the final results.
Some neighbors, notably Rwanda, worried about violence spilling across borders from Congo, a country rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world.
The AU statement notably did not name or congratulate Tshisekedi, merely taking note of the court’s decision. It called “all concerned to work for the preservation of peace and stability and the promotion of national harmony.”
A number of African leaders congratulated Tshisekedi, including the presidents of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi. The 16-nation Southern African Development Community, after wavering in recent days with support for a recount, called on all Congolese to accept the vote’s outcome.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli, in a post on Twitter, said that “I beseech you to maintain peace.”
Renowned visual artist Mickalene Thomas has taken over the fifth-floor gallery space of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) with her show “Femmes Noires.” Working with curator Julie Crooks, it is the first time the Brooklyn-based artist has staged an exhibition in Canada — and it is only the second time the AGO has exhibited the work of a Black woman artist.
Thomas’s exhibit is a powerful and extraordinary contemplation on the intersections of being both Black and a woman. Thomas takes inspiration from multiple art forms, movements, and histories, like Impressionism, and focuses on issues such as race, representation, sexuality, and Black celebrity culture.
As a Black woman, it is the first time I have ever walked the floors of the AGO and have seen myself reflected back at me. However, something for Canadians like myself to note is that Thomas’s visioning of Black womanhood is from an American point of view.
(The last solo exhibition by a Black woman at the AGO took place in 2010 — “This You Call Civilization?” featuring the work of Kenyan-born, New York-based Wangechi Mutu.)
For example, one of the reasons why Black beauty culture has not received much attention in Canada until now is because the task of locating Black voices in the Canadian historical record has been and remains a difficult challenge. Across the border, there are archival collections dedicated to African Americans, such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, but we don’t have anything like this in Canada.
Media circulates African American experiences
When I started researching Black beauty in Canada, most people were shocked there was enough material for me to write about in a book. The assumption was that the topic would have to focus squarely on African-American women.
For decades, Canadian cultural institutions have consumed African-American desires and fantasies as stand-ins for Black Canada. As a result, Black Canadian representations in popular culture have been rendered invisible.
Throughout the 20th century, cultural and economic practices were co-produced through the circulation of “African-Americanness” through media. From African-American TV shows in the 1970s, films in the 1980s and beyond, Canadians probably know more about the African-American experience than they do about Black Canadians because of media culture.
Canada’s media culture has participated in the creation of identities that privileged African-American images, products, and ideologies. These identities originally crossed the U.S./Canada border as desires and fantasies represented in advertising and, later, television and film, and today, art.
Black Canadian women are here
When Trey Anthony’s ’da Kink in My Hair TV series appeared from 2007-09 (based on the play of the same name), it was the first comedy series created by and starring Black women on Canadian national television. The broadcast of ’da Kink in My Hair happened nearly 40 years after Julia (1968–71) in which Diahann Carroll became the first African American woman to star on a U.S. sitcom in a non-stereotypical role. The representation gap between African American women and Black women in Canada spans decades.
To make up for some of this historical invisibility, this month and throughout the winter, the AGO’s “In the Living Room” series will feature Black Canadian women engaging with Thomas’s art and discussing their experiences.
Each talk will be set in the Femme Noires’ living room space, which is modeled after Thomas’s childhood home growing up in New Jersey. The patchwork chairs and books from African-American women authors become the art installation. Visitors are called to engage intimately with the paintings, installations, and videos on the walls but also the productive space, the living room, that birthed Thomas’s art in the first place.
While I can say much about the differences between Black Canadian experiences and African-American ones, there are universal Black beauty experiences that unite all women of African descent. For example, one of these experiences is the caring for and discussions around Black hair. Some of these public conversations are hurtful to many Black women.
On the one hand, our hair is connected to many painful childhood memories of being teased by other children (and sometimes adults) about our various braided hairstyles. On the other hand, natural hairstyles like Afros, dreadlocks or cornrows (tightly braided rows of hair) might denote a Black woman’s politics, but they can also be just a hairstyle or her preference, with no political meaning whatsoever.
Black hair is constantly debated, politicized and misrepresented in media, art, and popular culture. A simple decision about wearing it natural or straightened could result in punitive action — not in America, but right here in Canada. This was the case for a waitress-in-training who lost her job at Jack Astor’s because she wore her hair in a bun, and not “down” as required by female wait staff while working at the restaurant.
Black hair stories resonate with Black Canadian women, too. But resonance is not the same as representation.
Why have Black Canadian women artists not been given the same opportunity to exhibit their work as solo artists in Canada? This question about Black Canadian artists and how Black art has been represented and circulated has become prominent in Canadian media lately.
Curator Ashley McKenzie-Barnes wrote an article for the Toronto Star, and argued that Canadian art fairs, public art installations, festivals, major institutions, and galleries need to make space for Black Canadian artists. She is right. We’re doing the work — now we need the space to get recognized for it.
I’ve read about moms who have known since their kids were toddlers that they wanted to homeschool. That wasn’t the case for my family. Until recently, both my two boys have always been in public schools. Our journey to homeschooling came by way of a lot of personal issues that we couldn’t have predicted. Honestly, I never considered it before now. But here I am and, actually, I’m starting to wonder why I waited so long. I wanted to do this column to provide resources and encouragement to others who find themselves in a similar situation. I’ll be writing a new post each month (or more if time permits) with an update on how we’re doing, adding any new resources I’ve uncovered, and sharing tidbits about homeschooling that I’m learning along the way.
After playing for years on a very competitive baseball team, my son lost interest, complaining that his stomach hurt. He went from a kid who loved the game, to one who was repelled by it. The pain came and went sporadically. Then two years later at the start of 7th grade, it got worse. The trigger seemed to be increasing demands at school, from big presentations to stressful unit tests to just a lot of unfinished homework piling up.
Every morning was torture. I’d go to wake him up for school and I didn’t know whether he would fight his way awake or just pull the covers over his head and curl into a ball. I couldn’t understand why it was so impossible for him to fight through the pain. He would look at me with watery eyes and say he just couldn’t move.
My husband and I wanted to make sure he didn’t have some kind of underlying medical issue, so I took him to all sorts of specialists who examined him thoroughly with X-rays and blood tests. He was missing weeks of school at a time, but the tests revealed he didn’t have any physical ailments.
Finally, we broke down and had a full neurological exam, which cost us $1200—even with our health insurance. After the doctors reviewed surveys from us and his teachers, we finally got a diagnosis. Our son suffered from depression and anxiety disorder. Since both my husband and I have family members dealing with mental health issues, it wasn’t that out of the realm of possibility, I just hadn’t realized that this was how it could manifest itself.
Seeking Help & Support
We decided to enroll him into a Christian school anxiety and refusal program at a children’s hospital near our home so he could keep up his studies while getting therapy.
When we pulled up to the hospital for the first time, I saw a gigantic statue of Jesus with open arms — you know, like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. I felt like I was in the right place. After a few months of therapy, it seemed like we were making progress. However, he didn’t seem particularly eager to go back to his regular school.
In fact, this is when the idea of homeschooling first came up. My homeschooled her kids in their elementary years and her oldest, who was accepted into one of the most competitive high schools in the Chicago area, had just been accepted to Stanford University. When my son asked to be homeschooled, too, I shot him down pretty quickly. That wasn’t even something I felt I could consider. Sure, I’ve been to college and I have a master’s degree, but in no way did I consider myself a teacher. People go to school for years to learn how to teach kids, I reasoned. I felt like I’d be short-changing his education.
Feeling alone and frustrated, I started talking to parents in my church about our challenges. It turns out that two moms I talked to regularly also had kids suffering from anxiety and depression. Both had put their kids in similar school refusal/anxiety programs. In fact, one had a son who was pretty close to my kid. They often attended youth activities together at church, but the mom never shared what she was going through until I opened up about our family’s struggles. The other mom served as the youth director for the church. I still appreciate our heart-to-heart conversations. I also began reaching out to church leaders for support and they gave us the gift of love, checking on us regularly and adding us to the prayer circle. The senior pastor even took an interest in strategizing on ways the church could support my son to help get him back on track. No one judged us. I so appreciated that.
By the end of 7th grade, we had gotten him back going to his regular public school, sort of. He still was missing a few days every week or so, but nothing like the year before where he missed nearly thirty days of school in one semester. I thought we were moving past a difficult phase. I was wrong. Eighth grade was almost as bad as seventh. He barely graduated and he wasn’t looking forward to high school.
Starting Public High School
Two months into his freshman year, the stomach ache absences started again. At this point, he was on medication to deal with his disorder and to keep the pains at bay. He was missing school every single week.
Ironically, I had started writing a story on how more Black parents were homeschooling, which had me interviewing friends, parents and other experts. My son saw me working on the article and raised the question again about homeschooling. After talking to people who were doing it with kids the same as age as my son, I started to think maybe it wasn’t so far-fetched. I was really surprised at the support and encouragement I received from people I didn’t even know. I learned that homeschooling is different for everyone. There is no right or wrong way as long as your child is learning and thriving. Still, we weren’t ready to completely cut the cord with our public high school.
The counselors suggested a schedule where he came to campus for two classes and then took four classes at home through our district’s online schooling program. Our son also would need to have an individualized education plan, but the testing to receive this plan could take three months to schedule. Also, with the program, he still would have to come to school for tests. Given tests are a trigger for him, that wasn’t going to work for us. This plan started out okay, but even with only two classes on campus, the absences due to illness slowly returned.
However, he was doing very well with the online program so a month into the plan, we took the leap of faith and enrolled him full-time into the online high school. The school social worker didn’t think this was the right decision because she felt like we were “giving in” to his mental health issues. His counselor said that most kids he knew who went this route weren’t successful. But we did it anyway.
We also were worried about our son’s learning environment. Our community still is reeling from being featured in America to Me, a docuseries that brought to light some of the grumblings I’ve heard from African American parents over the years who were concerned about their boys and the learning vibe in our school system for people of color. I wondered if, without preconceived notions about what he could achieve, homeschooling could help to build up his confidence and reduce his anxiety.
We didn’t pull him without a plan. I knew what our state required for homeschoolers so I wrote a letter to the high school with details of our plan to educate our son. The day after we withdrew him from the high school, we received a letter in the mail from the attendance office telling us he had missed too many days to get credit for his courses. That confirmed we made the right decision.
We enrolled him in a regionally accredited online private school called Acellus Academy, which is run by the International Academy of Science. Four months in, things are so much better. He has virtual teachers in videos and a regular curriculum, but I am still very involved in the process, monitoring how he’s doing and stepping in when needed. Even as I am pleased with the program so far, I do feel the need to supplement with additional lessons from Khan Academy, Teaching Textbooks, and YouTube. (There are A LOT of very good teachers explaining just about everything on YouTube.). I’ve also learned a lot from private parenting groups on Facebook. Additionally, I’m going to incorporate Black history, field trips, and some faith-based teachings. I was looking for an all-in-one solution that I could build on, but every family is different and there are so many ways to structure a homeschooling environment. Some states even offer free programs through the local public school districts.
As for my son, the stomach aches have stopped altogether. He is very good about doing his work and currently has six classes and a 3.8 GPA. It only takes him about three hours to do his work, which I’m learning is fairly typical for homeschoolers. When you strip out lunch, gym, study hall, questions from other kids in the classroom, and other activities unrelated to learning, you can gain a lot more time to do other types of learning. When he turns 16, he may even get a job during the school year.
Homeschooling Blog on UrbanFaith.com
By sharing my story, I hope other parents will feel encouraged to consider homeschooling. Whether you’re dealing with a child with medical or mental health issues, or you just want a unique and positive educational experience for your kids, it can be a satisfying decision to take control of your student’s academic success. I plan to write about the good and the bad of our family’s journey on UrbanFaith.com, providing as many resources as possible for working with kids of all ages. My family is a little late to the game with a high schooler now learning at home. I’m not sure how our story is going to pan out in the end, but right now I have faith that we made the right decision.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication ceremony was described as a mix of worship service and partisan political rally, but there’s scant mention of race, racism or God at the site. What’s going on?
Women have been elected heads of national governments on six continents. They have flown into space, served in elite combat units and won every category of Nobel Prize. The global #MeToo movement, in 15 months, has toppled a multitude of powerful men linked to sexual misconduct.
Yet in most of the world’s major religions, women remain relegated to a second-tier status. Women in several faiths are still barred from ordination. Some are banned from praying alongside men and forbidden from stepping foot in some houses of worship altogether. Their attire, from headwear down to the length of their skirts in church, is often restricted.
But women around the world in recent months have been finding new ways to chip away at centuries of male-dominated traditions and barriers, with many of them emboldened by the surge of social media activism that’s spread globally in the #MeToo era.
Millions of women in India this month formed a human wall nearly 400 miles long in support of women who defied conservative Hindu leaders and entered an important temple that has long been off-limits to women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50.
In Israel, where Orthodox Judaism has long restricted women’s roles, one Jerusalem congregation has allowed women to lead Friday evening prayers. Roman Catholic bishops, under pressure from women’s-rights activists, concluded a recent Vatican meeting by declaring that women, as an urgent “duty of justice,” should have a greater role in church decision-making.
Many feminist scholars are challenging the rightfulness of long-standing patriarchal traditions in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, calling into question time-honored translations of verses in the Bible, Torah and Quran that have been used to justify a male-dominated hierarchy.
Social media is seen as a big catalyst in boosting activism and forging solidarity among women of faith who seek more equality. The #MeToo movement has been evoked — even in the ranks of conservative U.S. denominations — as a reason why women should expect more respectful treatment from male clergy, and a greater share of leadership roles.
“Women are looking for opportunities to have their voices heard and be more effective in their religious traditions,” said Gina Messina, a religion professor at Ursuline College in Ohio who describes herself as both a feminist and a Catholic theologian. “Using social media is an opportunity to say what they think.”
She co-founded a blog called Feminism and Religion that has scores of contributors around the world and followers in more than 180 countries. She also co-edited a collection of essays by Christian, Jewish and Muslim women explaining why they haven’t abandoned their patriarchal-leaning faiths.
“The perception seems to be that it is a feminist act only to leave such a religion. We contend that it is also a feminist act to stay,” the three editors write in their foreword.
Here’s a brief look at the status of gender equality in several of the world’s religions:
Catholic doctrine mandates an all-male priesthood, on the grounds that Jesus’ apostles were men.
A decades-long campaign for women’s ordination has made little headway and some advocates of that change have been excommunicated. Women do play major roles in Catholic education, health care and parish administration
While the recent meeting of bishops at the Vatican produced a call to expand women’s presence in church affairs, no details were proposed. The seven nuns who participated along with 267 male clergy were not allowed to vote on the final document.
Earlier this year, a Vatican magazine published an expose detailing how nuns are often treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops, for whom they cook and clean with little recompense.
At the University of Dayton, a Catholic school in Ohio, religion professor Sandra Yocum says some of the young women she teaches “are having a hard time seeing where they fit in” as they assess the church’s doctrine on gender roles and its pervasive clergy sex-abuse scandals.
“They have a deep concern for the church,” she said. “They want to respond in some way and take a leadership role.”
Messina sometimes engages in “small acts of dissent” to show displeasure with patriarchal Catholic traditions. At the recent funeral for her grandmother, she changed a Bible reading to make the passage gender-neutral.
“We have to continue to push — regardless of whether it’s in our generation or five generations from now.”
Rose Dyar, a senior at the University of Dayton, says she’s determined to team with other young Catholics to help the church overcome its challenges. The ban on female priests isn’t enough to drive her from Catholicism, but it dismays her.
“I absolutely support women’s ordination,” she said. “Unfortunately I don’t foresee it happening anytime soon, and that breaks my heart.”
Some of the most important traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad were preserved and carried forth by the women closest to him— his wives and daughters. But as with many other major faiths, women in Islamic tradition have largely been relegated to supporting roles throughout recent history.
Women in Islam do not lead prayer or give traditional Friday sermons. In larger mosques where women are welcome, they are almost always segregated from men in the back or allocated spaces on other floors with separate entrances and exits.
In Saudi Arabia, a male-dominated interpretation of Islam bars women from traveling or obtaining a passport without the consent of a male guardian. Only this year did the kingdom allowed women to drive.
Changes are happening elsewhere. In Tunisia, President Beji Caid Essebsi has proposed giving women equal inheritance rights with men — a much-debated topic around the Muslim world. In the Palestinian territories, Kholoud al-Faqih became the first female Shariah court judge in 2009, in part to help women beset by domestic violence.
Some women are challenging interpretations that state only men must attend traditional Friday prayers. A few have chosen to create their own prayer spaces, like the Women’s Mosque of America in California where women lead the services and female scholars share their knowledge.
The bylaws for that mosque were drafted by Atiya Aftab, who teaches Islamic Law at Rutgers University and is chair of the board at her mosque — a first for a woman in New Jersey. She says moves in the U.S. to expand women’s roles in the Islamic community have sometimes been met with conservative backlash, but the momentum for change seems strong.
In Texas, Muslim women recently formed a group that has investigated and publicized instances of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse committed against women by Muslim community leaders.
The gender situation within Judaism is markedly different in Israel and the United States, which together account for more than 80 percent of the world’s Jewish population.
The largest U.S. branches, Reform and Conservative, allow women to be rabbis, while the Orthodox branch does not. In Israel, the Conservative and Reform movements are small, and Orthodox authorities hold a near monopoly on all matters regarding Judaism.
One major source of contention: the Orthodox-enforced policy of prohibiting women from praying alongside men at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Numerous women protesting the policy have been arrested, and several American Jewish groups were angered last year when Israel’s government backtracked on plans to expand a space where both men and women could pray.
However, there have been moves to expand Orthodox women’s roles in religious life. A Jerusalem congregation, Shira Hadasha, has adopted a liberal interpretation of Jewish religious law that incorporates women’s involvement in services, such as leading Friday evening prayers and reciting from the Torah on the Sabbath.
An Orthodox organization called Tzohar is trying to advance women in roles where social custom, not religious law, has excluded them — such as teaching Jewish law or certifying restaurants’ compliance with kosher standards.
“If Jewish law does not say that something is prohibited, but just because of social or cultural reasons women were not involved, we see no reason that they should not be involved, said Tzohar’s chairman, Rabbi David Stav.
Women in the Mormon church are barred from being priests, leading local congregations or holding the top leadership posts in a faith that counts 16 million members worldwide.
The highest-ranking women in the church oversee three organizations that run programs for women and girls. These councils sit below several layers of leadership groups reserved for men.
The role of women in the conservative religion, officially named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been a subject of debate for many years, with some members pushing for more equality and increased visibility for women.
The church has made some changes in recent years; women’s groups say they mark small progress. In 2013, a woman for the first time led the opening prayer at the faith’s semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City. Later that year, a conference session previously limited to men was broadcast live for all to watch.
Mormon women are still expected to wear skirts or dresses to worship services and inside temples, but the religion has loosened its rules in recent years to allow women who work at church headquarters to wear pantsuits or dress slacks and to let women serving proselytizing missions to wear dress slacks.
The church shows no signs of budging on women’s ordination. Kate Kelly, the founder of a group called Ordain Women that led protests outside church conferences, was expelled from the faith in 2014.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Lorie Winder Stromberg, 66, a member of Ordain Women’s executive board. “I think women’s ordination is inevitable — but I have no sense of the timing.”
HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM
The gender-equality situation in these two Asian-based faiths is difficult to summarize briefly. Neither has a single supreme entity that enforces doctrine, and each has multiple branches with different philosophies and practices.
In Buddhism, women’s status varies from country to country. In Thailand, a Buddhist stronghold, women can become nuns — often acting as glorified temple housekeepers — but only in 2003 won the right to serve as the saffron-robed full equivalents of male monks, and still, represent just a tiny fraction of the country’s clergy.
India’s Sabarimala temple had long banned women and girls of menstruating age from entering the centuries-old house of worship. Some Hindus consider menstruating women to be impure.
The Supreme Court in September lifted the ban, and violent protests broke out after women entered the temple. Earlier this month, women formed a human chain spanning than 600 kilometers (375 miles) to support gender equality.
“The Hindu temples at present have almost 99 percent, male priests,” said women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari, director of New Delhi-based Center for Social Research. “Things have to improve.”
While many Protestant denominations now ordain women, the largest in the U.S. — the Southern Baptist Convention — is among those that don’t. It advocates that women submit to male leadership in their church and to a husband’s leadership at home.
Southern Baptist leaders say this doctrine aligns with New Testament teaching. One passage they cite quotes the apostle Paul as writing, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”
A recent statement from SBC leadership insisted that Southern Baptists “are not anti-woman.”
“However, because Scripture speaks specifically to the role of pastor, churches are under a moral imperative to be guided by that teaching, rather than the shifting opinions of human cultures.”
Cheryl Summers, a former Southern Baptist who has challenged the church to improve its treatment of women, describes this gender doctrine as “tortured logic” — especially given the accomplishments of SBC women in the secular world.
“There’s tremendous cognitive dissonance for a woman of faith who is leading professionally or through volunteer efforts when she experiences the glass ceiling and walls in her place of worship,” Summers said via email.
For the past year, the SBC has been roiled by a series of sexual misconduct cases involving churches and seminaries, prompting some activist women to demand new anti-abuse policies.
____ Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes speaks to reporters at the courthouse Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Chicago. Former Detective David March, ex-Officer Joseph Walsh and Officer Thomas Gaffney, three Chicago police officers accused accused of trying to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014, were acquitted by a judge Thursday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
I’m in Chicago and we’re reeling over a judge who acquitted three Chicago police officers of trying to cover up the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. It’s hard not to feel some kind of way (insert eye roll here), even though officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the case and sentenced to 81 months in prison. There were no cheers today. It’s almost like you could predict that someone had to take the fall, but the Chicago political machine that created an environment for this to happen churns on and it’s a win for the so-called police “Code of Silence.” Ironically, today I happened to be reading a lot of Bible verses on forgiveness. “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:4).
I remember when the Charleston church shooting happened a few years ago. I was in awe at relatives of the victims who stood up and bravely told that heartless crazy man that they forgave him. It was a powerful message of forgiveness. So what about these cops? Do we just pray and let it go? Not so fast. God knows what we did, where we did it, and who we did it to. He still loves us and forgives us. But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten about it. He expects to see a change in us. Why shouldn’t we expect to see a change in police accountability in Chicago and across this country? I’m sure the Charleston relatives haven’t forgotten about Dlyann Roof and his Bible study attack either — they choose not to let their hearts be bitter (Hebrews 12:15). With that example, they changed the angry — and potentially destructive — conversation. And I’d like to believe their silent strength thawed a few bigoted cold hearts out there.
You could argue that a court acquitted the three police officers so there’s nothing to forgive. They are “not guilty” of this crime, so says a judge. Why doesn’t that make us feel better? Roll the video evidence, please. It doesn’t lie — even when law enforcement does.
So where does that leave us with these Chicago cops? We forgive, but continue to collectively fight the injustice that plagues our communities and demand change. Urban Faith has a list of faith-based social justice organizations that you can look into as a way to channel your frustration and maybe even fear about things happening around you that feel are out of your control. On that note, shout out to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Yeah, you may think he was a part of your mama’s Civil Rights Movement, but Dr. King and his bus-riding, arm-linked marching, boycotting activists clearly understood channeling those feelings of anger and frustration into positive actionable change.
Back then, a half century ago, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.
African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges and careers once reserved for whites only.
I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive – and, yes, once upon a time, president. The U.S. is a very different place than it was in 1968.
Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for black Americans in the past 50 years, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.
A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend’s place.
“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity,” Abernathy said, “and we will stay until we get it.”
This is now
So, how far have black people progressed since 1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those questions have been on my mind a lot this month.
Financial security, too, still differs dramatically by race. Black households earn $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families. And for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.
Another troubling aspect about black social progress – or should I say the lack thereof – is how many black families are headed by single women. In the 1960s, unmarried women were the main breadwinners for 20 percent of households. In recent years, the percentage has risen as high as 72 percent.
Black Americans today are also more dependent on government aid than they were in 1968. Currently, almost 40 percent of African-Americans are poor enough to qualify for welfare, housing assistance and other government programs that offer modest support to families living under the poverty line.
Depending on who you ask, then, black people aren’t much better off than in 1968 because either there’s not enough government help or there’s way too much.
What would MLK do?
I don’t have to wonder what Dr. King would recommend. He believed in institutional racism.
In 1968, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council sought to tackle inequality with the Economic Bill of Rights. This was not a legislative proposal, per se, but a moral vision of a just America where all citizens had educational opportunities, a home, “access to land,” “a meaningful job at a living wage” and “a secure and adequate income.”
To achieve that, King wrote, the U.S. government should create an initiative to “abolish unemployment,” by developing incentives to increase the number of jobs for black Americans. He also recommended “another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level.”
Those ideas were revolutionary in 1968. Today, they seem prescient. King’s notion that all citizens need a living wage portends the universal basic income concept now gaining traction worldwide.
King’s rhetoric and ideology are also obvious influences on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 2016 presidential primaries advocated equality for all people, economic incentives for working families, improved schools, greater access to higher education and for anti-poverty initiatives.
Progress has been made. Just not as much as many of us would like. To put it in Dr. King’s words, “Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”
Emerging from a season that primarily represents joy, unity and faith, fear and distrust lead the way. Whether you are a part of the faith community or not, you witnessed a 2019 new year governed by a democracy that was less than fully functional. In fact, it rapidly progressed into a historic government shutdown. Call it what you want, but many people are anxious about all types of potentially damaging effects of some degree of personal and publicly traded financial free fall. At the core of the matter, can we consider that perhaps the lack of ethics was a major culprit in this dilemma? If we all authentically ponder this idea, we may find some eye-opening premises.
Years ago during my college days, my roommate and I would joke about advice that her parent would often tell her when she was growing up. Almost always when she responded with her version of various explanations to her parents’ inquiries, they were met with the response from the parent “now lie to me the truth!” Of course, it was a laughing matter then, but now it is a demand within every part of our culture. One fact that will always remain, regardless of what Christian apologists or universal pessimists choose to teach the masses, truth is the cornerstone of ethics. The quality of being honest will always win. In the context of biblical teaching, 1 John 3:18 encourages all Christians to “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” But, who’s perfect?
For the first time in history, 2019 has presented us with the longest federal government shutdown ever. Mired by future uncertainty, lack of confidence and blind allegiances are rampant and send alarming signals projecting harm on others and fail to be in the interest of anyone but a few. There are more questions than answers and even less tolerance to resolve the obvious ills that plague all of us. If we struggle to depend on our nation of laws, then where is the teaching and intervention from the church? Have we all tossed our consciousness out the window?
The Wall, Conspiracies, and Indictments
There are multiple contexts given these are subjects that intertwine ethics and faith. However, it can be assumed that some of these most recent circumstances are not all negative or intentional. Perhaps there is a spiritual message that reminds us of lessons from the ministry of Christ. Christ and his disciples worked to teach the meaning and the importance of the necessity to respond to the concept of ethics to the nations. Their message essentially resounded that love and care for all people was good. Selfishness and lack of respect, not just the love of money, is equally the root of all evil. However in these times, self-preservation has become a common mantra and the Apostle Paul’s brutally honest confession in Romans 7:15-20 (NLT) simply has been lost in the sauce. Paul honestly explained that 15 “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Does this sound familiar as reflected in our current state of world affairs and personal choices? Can we at least give Paul credit for acknowledging his truth to others? His statement was not an excuse to continue his inappropriate behavior, but a truth of his own self-awareness that as human beings, our faith can be a saving grace that begins to address the issues that contribute to corruption in our society and to the human spirit.
The good news is that the cornerstone of Christianity is still built on righteousness, not perfection. Although our government and its leadership have an obligation to be lawful, our community of faith has a job to also be accountable to teach more truth and empowerment. There are biblical laws that are universal. The lack integrity can bring on harsh consequences that spare no one. For example, we can begin with the Ten Commandments. They are regarded to some as ancient fairytales that have less relevance in our lives, yet disobedience of either of them can literally wreak havoc on our well-being as well as our quality of life or even our very existence. Biblical principles must be taught purposely for both salvation and survival and not in vain.
Ethics begin and end when there is a conscientious shift that keeps us in tune with truth that transforms us to intentionally think more in-depth about our ethical life choices or outcomes. The old must make an honest effort to teach the young. The self-absorbed must realize that they can make a difference to the less fortunate. Leadership is far more effective when leaders deliberately learn strategies without an ulterior motive that connotes deception or intent to hide true motivation. While there may have been many reasons for an action, the intent should reflect the true thing that is trying to be accomplished. No matter how insignificant an issue may be, a little white lie is still deception. More than ever before, there is a critical need for leaders of all levels to learn and continue to re-learn contemporary and more influential leadership skills that help those who follow them better understand that hopelessness is a choice and not the norm. As one of the wealthiest nations on earth, we have the resources, ability, and heart to be the ethical beacon of light that practices the type of equality that pays employees on time, feeds the hungry, provides a fair system of education for all, helps those who are giving their all to escape persecution, and most of all, as the Bible instructs “obey the laws of the land.” This is emphasized in Romans 2:13 — 13 ”For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.” This logic should make sense, especially to those who follow Christ’s teachings.
Before we as a nation pay to build more walls for borders, let more individuals within the community of faith tear down unnecessary walls to embrace those who seek refuge. This is also embodied within the ministry of Christ. Keep in mind that all efforts to conspire against anyone or anything is unethical. Nevertheless, let the church continue to maintain its major role to inspire hope and spiritual awakening. Believers in Christ, let’s not allow ourselves to become desensitized to anything that resembles less than the truth. It carves a path that may lead to eventual indictments on the message of love we attempt to send throughout the world. For indeed, it is our privilege to be vigilant in recognizing the opposite of what is right and ethical to further strengthen faith in the face of fear. The freedom of truth is the most ethical contribution to mankind. Jesus was very clear about this in John 8:31-32, 31 Those that had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
A father and son stand together at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, inaugurated in 2011. They are looking at a quote by MLK which reads: THE ULTIMATE MEASURE OF A MAN IN NOT WHERE HE STANDS IN MOMENTS OF COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE BUT WHERE HE STANDS AT TIMES OF CHALLENGE AND CONTROVERSY.
Dr. Melvin Banks draws Biblical connections and insight into the life and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Take a few minutes to enjoy these two-minute podcast shorts.
The instinct to protect our own is so ingrained in Black culture that it’s become a haven of toxicity instead of comfort. After the airing of Lifetime’s docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, social media and news outlets roared with condemning thoughts on the matter and, unfortunately, some defended him. This valid reaction does not attack the root of the cultural problem — silence on abuse in the Black home and community. This is not the first time R. (Robert) Kelly has been in the news about his alleged predatory sex escapades and accusations, but now through the brave testimonies of his victims, it seems as if we are ready to stop the cycle. Although sexual abuse hotlines saw a 20% uptick in calls, there are still many who have not spoken up because they were raised to be silent and carry on.
The documentary and an article onEbony magazine’s website revealed that R. Kelly and his brother, Carey Kelly, were sexually abused (at ages 10 and 6) by their older sister and never spoke about it to their mother. The reason:
“I was afraid to tell my mom, because of the person, who they were. I-I [sic] didn’t know if she was gonna believe me, so I was afraid to tell her,” Carey Kelly explained on episode 1 of Surviving R.Kelly.
Imagine a young woman shuffling home terrified after a brutal sexual encounter with her uncle and while quivering she bravely tells her mother what happened. With a stoic restraint the mother hugs her and forces her daughter to forgive him and deny what happened to save the family name. This type of forced denial is not uncommon because it’s hard to believe that someone who is loved and respected could ever commit a heinous act.
“Robert, him being my big brother, I brought that to him and told-told [sic] him what happened to me. And when I told him what happened to me, um…he didn’t, he didn’t really respond to it like I felt that he should. When-when [sic] I told him, he said, ‘Nah, that didn’t happen, that didn’t happen to you.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it did,’” shared Carey Kelly on episode 1 of Surviving R. Kelly.
Carey continued to describe how he was trying to “test out” whether or not he should tell their mother and since his truth was negated he left it alone. When their sister began to molest R. Kelly, he too kept it quiet and allowed it to continue for years. Not being able to communicate your pain for the sake of your assailant’s reputation is a form of gaslighting and is a common practice in these circumstances.
After he rose to stardom, his trauma turned into a habit of conquering younger women so that he may no longer be a victim. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Candice Norcott, childhood sexual abuse translates into seeking power and control through sex. Kelly did this by embodying his nickname, “The Pied Piper,” and luring teenage girls into the studio with promises of their own fame or fame by association. His trauma and silence transformed him into a version of his assailant, where he had the illusion of power and total control over the situation.
On social media, men weighed in on how this was another attack like Bill Cosby’s allegations. Unfortunately, like Cosby, Kelly, too, is guilty, but that did not stop Rico Love from weighing in and defending Kelly’s legacy. Upon further reflection, Rico Love changed his mind. However, it brings to question, how many times must a harsh truth be told about someone who is admired before it is believed?
Kelly is ingrained in our culture and, for many millennials, part of our youth was memorizing the lyrics to “I Believe I Can Fly.” His dual power of celebrity and nostalgia served as a cloak to his wrongdoing during the first two uproars surrounding marriage to a 15-year-old Aaliyah and the infamous circulating tape that featured intercourse with a 14-year-old girl. Enablers of Kelly, such as his manager and bodyguard (featured in Surviving R. Kelly), turned a blind eye to his pedophilia due to their loyalty to friendship, fame, and legacy.
“The story of sexual predation as an inconvenience in popular music is so old. It’s been going on for decades, for centuries. Nobody wants to give up the music they love. And nobody wants to think badly of the artists they love,” said Ann Powers, music journalist, on Surviving R. Kelly.
Some in the Black community voice the distaste for their friend or relative’s abusive actions, yet do nothing because of their adoration or sympathy for the individual. By carrying on with a “no snitch” and “do you” culture paired with empathy for the root of a predator’s actions, we give passage to an unremorseful and relentless tirade of causing others the same pain they experienced. The loyalty to not destroying a community, family, or legacy is louder than the crime. And that is worse than the silence itself, contributing to untreated mental health issues, loss of faith, and possibly the secret dying with them.
In the era of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, forgiving and forgetting is slowly fading away. Women are awakening people blind to rape culture and toxicity of keeping “the little secret.” Youth and older women are emboldened to tell their stories in order to prevent future injustices for young women. Unfortunately, both men and women still shudder at coming forward because of the shame of allowing this to happen.
People were asked on the Whisper app if they had ever been sexually assaulted and why they did not speak up, these were some of the responses:
To err is human, to forgive is divine, but where is the line drawn?
Forgiveness is a staple of Christianity, however it could be to the detriment of someone’s mental state if justice is never served. The Kelly brothers were abused by their sister, but no one would believe them if they spoke up because she was a “good member of the community.” Even if they were believed, would she have been punished for her actions or excused under the law of the faith?
We need to stop allowing ‘the cloth’ to blind us from the reality of a person or situation. Community worship, having a relationship with God, and practicing the word of God are three very different components of Christianity. The assumption that someone is active in all three components because they hold a position in the church is asinine. The false anointing given to people who have a proprietary role within the community or church assist in the damage created when the abused are silenced and forced to forgive; sweeping away the mental and emotional turmoil that morphs the innocent into a person like R. Kelly. Therefore, without support and justice for the crime, the cycle continues.
Is this our fault?
We have celebrated R.Kelly for his musical genius and ignored his scandals, reducing them to jokes. Similar things happen in families where traumas are pushed aside or made into comic relief that masks their disappointment. It is not R.Kelly’s fault for the trauma he experienced, but it is not an excuse to torture young women because therapy was not considered.
If we are going to protect our youth, they need to be educated on how to advocate for their mental health and safety. We need them to understand that trauma can happen and there is help available to redefine their lives beyond it. We’ve seen the damage caused by someone who could not advocate for themselves.
To break the cycle let’s do something we’ve never done before… watch and listen.
Willie Perkins. Zachariah Graham. Cornelius Robinson and Will Thompson.
Names are the only heirlooms still left from the four, who were all lynched at various times in Alabama’s history, and they are four of the thousands of people lynched nationwide who Lynda Tredway hopes to memorialize with her quilting project.
Since she began in 2013, Tredway has completed 24 quilts for nine states, including Alabama, and she estimates she has 41 quilts and three years left to completion.
Sewn into the front of each quilt is that state’s official tree or flower. Each leaf represents one of the names scrawled on the back.
There are scores of pine needles representing the hundreds lynched in Alabama, and it took three quilts to record them all.
“I’m a history teacher but not a historian, so I’d say I’m not trying to be as accurate as the Tolnay and Beck lynching database is,” Tredway said, referring to work done by Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck documenting lynchings. “The number isn’t as important to me as representing that, at one point, someone thought it was OK to commit an act of terror against another human being.”
As a history instructor who first began teaching in predominantly minority schools in Washington, D.C., in 1969, Tredway said it became “imperative” to become familiar with African-American history.
Her passion for telling the stories of lynching victims first blossomed as she studied the anti-lynching campaigns of Ida B. Wells Barnett. Tredway’s foray into quilting as a medium for “redemptive art” was inspired by the photography of Ken Gonzales-Day, who photoshopped lynching victims out of pictures to show mobs staring thirstily at naked trees.
“That said to me, ‘Why aren’t you representing this in what you do? You’re a fabric artist and quiltmaker. What would it be like to take on this large project to represent the people who were lynched in America?'” Tredway said.
So far, Tredway has completed Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. Next is Virginia, and its difficult-to-stitch dogwood.
The white mother of a black daughter, Tredway said the project is a personal, spiritual practice.
She says aloud the name of each lynching victim before writing it on the back of the quilt. In so many cases, Tredway may be the first person in decades to utter these names. She preserves them in the hope she won’t be the last.
“I feel like a memory keeper. . . . It feels like a personal legacy piece to me,” Tredway said.
This past April, Tredway’s journey led her to Montgomery where the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative unveiled the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the nation’s first memorial to more than 4,000 known black lynching victims, and the Legacy Museum, which traces the history of slavery through lynching to present day mass incarceration.
At the time, Tredway called it a “holy experience.” She recognized so many of the names.
The visit also solidified the purpose of Tredway’s mission. She marveled at EJI’s steel pillars emblazoned with the names of those killed for the color of their skin under the guise of justice. Here was a horrible truth that, through art, allowed people more time to spend with it and understand it.
“The thing people say to me the most (about the quilts) is, ‘How can something this beautiful be about something so horrible?’ The second thing is, ‘I can look at this longer than a lynching photo and take in the history,'” Tredway said.
Quilting has long been a traditional medium for African-American art. In Gee’s Bend, Alabama — a long-segregated, river-bound peninsula inhabited mostly by descendants of slaves — quilting remains an honored tradition passed on through the generations.
Tredway visited Gee’s Bend and spoke with those quiltmakers. It was just another reminder that her project is larger than 65 quilts.
“It does feel like I’m doing this for more than me, like I’m doing this for a larger understanding. The honor really goes to the people who had to endure this horror,” Tredway said. “If I can represent that in any way that commemorates them and honors the incredible sacrifices they have made, then I feel like I might have contributed a small part to us reconciling.”
Yes, these are all great questions to ask anyone while dating. However, there are some key questions Christians often forget to ask. While not everyone desires marriage (Matthew 19:11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:7), marriage is often the ultimate goal for dating Christians (Genesis 2:24). Thus, our questions must be guided by our faith, wisdom and our intentions. So, in an effort to help you along your dating journey, we’ve included five important questions that we as Christians should be asking, but often overlook:
1) Is Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior?
This is a question that should be asked early on in the dating process. Believe it or not, many of us date non-believers or presume our potential mate’s salvation status more than we’d like to admit, instead of just asking. Putting this question out there helps us keep Christ at the center of our new friendships and relationships, forces us and our dates to truly examine our faith, and it shows our potential mates that faith is a priority in our life. Besides, asking this question immediately weeds out those with whom we would be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14).
2) Are we casually dating or are we “courting”?
Casual dating can be a fun way to meet new people, but it is riddled with ambiguity and emotional frustration. This can be a waste of time for those who truly desire marriage. Thus, courting is a Christian’s best bet. Courting allows you to focus solely on getting to know your date, pray for one another and to prayerfully seek God’s will for your relationship before marriage. After about three months of “hanging out,” it’s reasonable and fair to inquire about your potential mate’s long-term intentions. Are you two free to see other people, or are you two seeking God and a long-term relationship—together?
3) What are your physical boundaries?
We (should) know that sex and all related acts before marriage is a no go (Hebrews 13:14). Though it’s natural to desire to be affectionate toward your romantic interest, wisdom precludes any arousing physical contact – this can include kisses and hugs. Understanding your date’s physical boundaries (beyond sex) keeps you both accountable, honors personal convictions and, above all, honors God. Clarify each other’s boundaries up front and respect them.
4) What is your philosophy on debt and tithing?
Debt and tithing are only part of a larger discussion on money management, and this discussion should occur well before you and your bank accounts become one. Christians actually maintain varying degrees of convictions regarding tithing and debt. In fact, there are more views on tithing than we can count. While there are also Christians who view any form of debt – including mortgages – as a sin, while others believe some debt is warranted as long as it is repaid. However, having varying convictions about finances doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker (Romans 14), but these variances will require lots of conversation, and will greatly impact financial decisions and lifestyle choices in a marriage.
5) Who Comes First? Wife, Parent or Kids?
They say that how a man treats his mother is how he’ll treat his wife. This is a great adage to consider while dating. But God said – and Jesus Christ reiterated – that a marrying man must “leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5). Yet, some husbands not only put heir mothers ahead of their wives, they expect their wives to understand this arrangement. Meanwhile, some wives are guilty of putting their children before their husband, and they expect their husbands to just roll with it. These mindsets are clearly out of sync with scripture, as they can deal deathblows to the “one flesh” mandate. While dating, we often think of our needs or judge how our dates might fit into our world. But we must also assess our willingness to make them number one and our ability to be one with them – above all others.
Christian dating can be fun, but it shouldn’t be done haphazardly. Asking the right questions saves time, guards hearts and preserves godly intentions.
So much can be said about love. The beloved 1 Corinthians verses, such as “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8a), are in many a wedding ceremony. But it’s when life gets hard that we draw on God’s love, who we love, and who loves us. Dr. Melvin E. Banks, the founder of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has 25 biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover tough love, love and sorrow, love and relationships, beloved hymns, unconditional love, peace and love, and loving Jesus.
For years, Martin Luther King Jr. and poet Langston Hughes maintained a friendship, exchanging letters and favors and even traveling to Nigeria together in 1960.
In 1956, King recited Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” from the pulpit to honor his wife Coretta, who was celebrating her first Mother’s Day. That same year, Hughes wrote a poem about Dr. King and the bus boycott titled “Brotherly Love.” At the time, Hughes was much more famous than King, who was honored to have become a subject for the poet.
But during the most turbulent years of the civil rights movement, Dr. King never publicly uttered the poet’s name. Nor did the reverend overtly invoke the poet’s words.
You would think that King would be eager to do so; Hughes was one of the Harlem Renaissance’s leading poets, a master with words whose verses inspired millions of readers across the globe.
However, Hughes was also suspected of being a communist sympathizer. In March of 1953, he was even called to testify before Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.
Meanwhile, King’s opponents were starting to make similar charges of communism against him and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, accusing the group of being a communist front. The red-baiting ended up serving as some of the most effective attacks against King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
It forced King to distance his organization from men with similar reputations – Bayard Rustin, Jack O’Dell and even his closest adviser, Stanley Levison.
It also meant he needed to sever any overt ties to Hughes.
But my research has found traces of Hughes’ poetry in King’s speeches and sermons. While King might not have been able to invoke Hughes’ name, he was nonetheless able to ensure that Hughes’ words would be broadcast to millions of Americans.
Beating back the red-baiters
In the 1930s, Hughes earned a subversive reputation by writing several radical poems. In them, he criticized capitalism, called for worker’s to rise up in revolution and claimed racism was virtually absent in communist countries such as the U.S.S.R.
Red-baiting also fractured black political and social organizations. For example, Bayard Rustin was forced to resign from the SCLC after African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell threatened to expose Rustin’s homosexuality and his past association with the Communist Party USA.
As the leading figure in the civil rights movement, King had to toe a delicate line. Because he needed to retain popular support – as well as be able to work with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – there could be no question about where he stood on the issue of communism.
So King needed to be shrewd about invoking Hughes’ poetry. Nonetheless, I’ve identified traces of no fewer than seven of Langston Hughes’ poems in King’s speeches and sermons.
In 1959, the play “A Raisin in the Sun” premiered to rave reviews and huge audiences. Its title was inspired by Hughes’ poem “Harlem.”
“What happens to a dream deferred?” Hughes writes. “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? … Or does it explode?”
Just three weeks after the premiere of “A Raisin in the Sun,” King delivered one of his most personal sermons, giving it a title – “Shattered Dreams” – that echoed Hughes’ imagery.
“Is there any one of us,” King booms in the sermon, “who has not faced the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams?” He’d more directly evoke Hughes in a later speech, in which he would say, “I am personally the victim of deferred dreams.”
Hughes’ words would also become a rallying cry during the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
During the grind of the year-long boycott, King spurred activists on by pulling from “Mother to Son.”
“Life for none of us has been a crystal stair,” King proclaimed at the Holt Street Baptist Church, “but we must keep moving.” (“Well, son, I’ll tell you / Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” Hughes wrote. “But all the time / I’se been a-climbin’ on.”)
Did Hughes inspire the dream?
King’s best-known speech is “I Have a Dream,” which he delivered during the 1963 March on Washington.
Nine months before the famous march, King gave the earliest known delivery of the “I Have a Dream” speech in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. (We can also now finally hear this connection after the reel-to-reel tape of King’s First Dream was recently discovered.)
But the roots of “I Have a Dream” go back even further. On Aug. 11, 1956, King delivered a speech titled “The Birth of a New Age.” Many King scholars consider this address – which talked about King’s vision for a new world – the thematic precursor to his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In this speech, I recognized what others had missed: King had subtly ended his speech by rewriting Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World.”
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free.
It is impossible not to notice the parallels in what would become “I Have a Dream”: I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
King spoke truth to power, and part of that strategy involved riffing or sampling Hughes’ words. By channeling Hughes’ voice, he was able to elevate the subversive words of a poet that the powerful thought they had silenced.
Let’s begin with some debatable thoughts. With an abundance of chaos and corruption in our world today, trust in almost anything is at an all-time low. We’re witnessing events and situations not experienced before in our lifetime. Things have changed. As a result, the reality is that with each generation, the general perception of faith has somehow been redefined in many ways.
We have more choices concerning how we decide to frame our reality of faith. Perhaps it’s just simply a response to the natural process of evolution of personal life experiences or just that our environmental situations contribute to defining what faith today really means to each individual. However, there is at least one simple truth that all believers have in common: God exists and the Bible still offers keys to a message of hope that appeals to our sense of decency, concepts about love, and forgiveness. It seems that most of humanity believes in the faithfulness of positive words and deeds that keeps us peaceful and centered during constant change and adversity. So, as mankind takes a critical look at the world, can we as Christians adhere to a core promise that faith today can be reframed as simply a way of living with peace of mind? After all, living in peace is a choice and, of course, having faith in God is a choice, also.
What is Faith?
The Oxford Dictionary defines Faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” With the intent to add more clarity to the subject, combine an academic perspective and some synonyms for faith, such as belief, conviction, credence, reliance, dependence, optimism, hopefulness, and expectation. As for church affiliation and the faith community, we are guided by “the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” (Hebrews 11:1). The Bible presents ideologies that make common sense to all, regardless of faith affiliation. It reflects the ‘worldview’ for living that many cannot dispute. On the other hand, Christianity within the faith community remains steadfast in agreement with the biblical definition.
Christian believers generally refer to the “world” as a term describing individuals who do not believe in God or participate in Christian values. While analyzing these definitions as a member of humanity and society, can we see more of an interesting intersection of commonalities that cannot easily be debated with absolute merit? It seems that both Christians and non-Christians believe the following worldviews, for example:
Humanity should be respected and human needs should be valued by all.
Issues with poverty, civil disobedience, murder, famine, hypocrisy from all sources, transparency related to all issues, greed on all levels and other societal ills can be resolved with a joint effort.
Judgment of anyone or anything without a genuine effort of resolution to the problem is not a virtue.
A church building is not essential to the spiritual growth of human development; and more importantly, God, or whatever an individual chooses to call their creator, exists and impacts lives.
Simply put in today’s world, almost everyone desires some assurance to trust and hope for things that they cannot see, even those things that they cannot explicitly prove.
Gaslighting is simple to understand in today’s society. Merriam-Webster defines it as an “attempt to make (someone) believe that he or she is going insane (as by subjecting that person to a series of experiences that have no rational explanation).”
This is not a new concept. We’ve seen it in the Christian community. Let’s drop the mike at this point! Do Christians gaslight other human beings as they may perceive themselves godlier? Furthermore, do Christians gaslight those who are perceived to be non-believers because of their differences of thought about faith and values based on a litany of alternative realities? The answer lies in John 8:7(NLT), “All right, but let those who have never sinned throw the first stone!” Be honest, there are a number of valid reasons why most pews are empty.
Perceptions About Faith Today
For the last 30 years, The Barna Group, a research firm has focused on the intersection of faith and culture by studying and tracking the role of faith in America. According to one insightful study entitled “What Millennials Want When They Visit Church,” they found that among those who say church is not important, most millennials were split between multiple reasons:
Two in five say church is not important because they can find God or strengthen their personal faith elsewhere (39%).
One-third say it’s because church is not personally relevant to them (35%).
One in three simply find church boring (31%).
One in five say it feels like God is missing from church (20%)
8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date.”
Interesting enough, another published report “Making Space for Millennials,” virtually mirrors similar sentiments in that a significant number of young adults expressed deeper complaints about church and their perceptions about faith today.
“More than one-third says their negative perceptions are a result of moral failures in church leadership (35%). And a substantial number of millennials view Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-homosexual (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).”
These beliefs, of course, are not exclusive or experienced in all areas of the faith community as a whole, yet it seems quite revealing today that there is a large majority of people who lack interest in participating in any organized religious group and this appears to be a regular occurrence, especially within the Black church. The church’s decline in attendees corroborate this fact.
David Kinnaman, researcher and author of the book “You Lost Me,” shares some intriguing and perhaps valid perceptions about the Christian population of individuals ages 18-25 years old. Approximately, “38% have confessed to doubt their faith. Over 57% are less interested in the mundane messages preached based on traditional values of the old church that do not meet their concerns or provide the answers they seek in the troubled world in which they’re trying to survive. Even more puzzling, 59% do not regard church as a priority.” The author’s findings do not condemn the church, nor does it advocate that anyone change their views about their Christian beliefs. But the community of faith needs to make quality efforts to better understand that the realities of the world’s perception of love, faithfulness, values, and personal struggles have created a climate in which we all feel a need to be selective in our problem-solving and, in some cases, our very existence. Maybe this will cause a more positive change in perception of faith and promote the meaning of a true discipleship.
Today’s Faith In Action
Building faith and learning to consistently maintain it are two different constructs today. In a multi-diverse community of faith, there is a need to reframe how we can reach and teach God’s people with truth that matters. “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Roman 10:17 NLT). Our world is complex, our government is distrustful, our rights have diminished in many ways, discrimination is real, Black lives matter and, of course, all lives matter. What good news do Christians today have for all?
Christians today are indeed aware of their own missteps. We also realize that even non-believers sense that true forgiveness comes from God and portions of faith exists in all of us. We all understand that we judge others with our biases based on the degree of their circumstances while minimizing our own vices. Honestly, some non-believers often become disappointed and frustrated with Christians. Those who desire to gain a better perception of our faith in God see some Christians who also demonstrate worldly actions as well. They can see that Christians are too busy reacting and interacting with “worldly” issues and struggle to maintain balance in their own lives. They understand shade when they ask Christians to help them understand better or help with their doubts and often told “Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll be praying for you,” “God is good,” or they are judged because their tithes records are not up to par. The outcome is that some Christians fail to personally help or end up gaslighting within the faith community. In today’s world, this can easily become a detriment to anyone who seeks God and desires to learn about our faith.
Isn’t it high time to reframe our own evangelism? We need to consciously and actively commit to spreading the gospel and continue to strengthen our personal witness and advocacy of our faith, even in a world of chaos.
Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, died unexpectedly from a stroke on Sunday (Jan. 6). He was 76.
In the words of Simeon llesanmi, “An African Academic Elephant has indeed fallen”— meaning that a great individual has died.
Sanneh’s scholarly contributions spanned more than 20 books as author and editor, and over 200 scholarly articles through the course of 40-plus years of academic scholarship on four continents. He represents a particular kind of scholar that is hard to come by in today’s academy: a rigorous polymath who cared about not only the theoretical work of theology and history but the everyday lives of those who believe.
Born in Gambia to a royal lineage, Sanneh grew up as a Muslim but later converted to Christianity. Earning his graduate degrees from the University of Birmingham (M.A.) and the University of London (Ph.D.), Sanneh would go on to teach at the University of Ghana, the University of Aberdeen, Harvard Divinity School and, since 1989, at Yale Divinity School. He worked with Andrew Walls setting up World Christianity Conferences and was a member of the board at the Overseas Ministries Study Center at Yale Divinity School. He has served with extraordinary distinction in many areas, including holding a lifetime appointment at the University of Cambridge’s Clare Hall and holding the John Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at the Library of Congress.
Lamin Sanneh meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Feb. 9, 2017. Photo courtesy of Yale Divinity School
In September 2018, the University of Ghana established the Lamin Sanneh Institute, which will promote scholarly research on religion and society in Africa, emphasizing the areas of Sanneh’s expertise, Islam and Christianity.
In “Translating the Message,” Sanneh upends the argument that Christianity — as a missionary religion — wipes out the cultures it enters. Rather, Sanneh asserts that Christianity is unique as a missionary religion because it is translated without the language of the founder (Jesus) and invests itself in every language by forsaking the language of Jesus (Aramaic). Christianity is, according to Sanneh, a preserver rather than a destroyer of indigenous languages and cultures. In “Whose Religion Is Christianity,” Sanneh answers questions about Christianity not from a Western perspective, but from the perspective of, as he puts it, “the movement of Christianity in societies that were previously not Christian and societies that had no bureaucratic tradition in which to domesticate the gospel.”
Here lies the crux of Sanneh’s scholarship.
About 15 years ago, several of us were working on a project about the history of world Christianity. At that time, there was an academic debate over what term to use: world Christianities, global Christianity or Christianity in the non-Western/majority world.
None of those fit, Sanneh told Dale Irvin, president of New York Theological Seminary, in an email. Christians outside the West had an equal claim to the word “Christianity.” They are not from a different faith.
“(T)he fight about what name to give to the subject is really a fight of the west and its surrogates to contest the right of Christians elsewhere to consider themselves as equals in the religion,” he wrote. “The countermove with the inclusive title ‘World Christianity’ is intended to force a reckoning with ‘tribal’ view of the west.”
For myself and many other students and scholars, this emphasis on world Christianity opened the doors to scholarship that was not simply focused on Western ideas and theologies. It opened the doors to new ways of thinking about the historical and present-day impact of Christianity in cultures around the world, as well as Islam and other indigenous religions.
I remember when, as a graduate student, I stumbled onto Sanneh’s book “West African Christianity.” Years later, I was delighted to meet Sanneh while I was a junior professor on a project working with world Christianity for Orbis Press. He was cordial, distinguished and welcoming to me, as well as many others.
Lamin Sanneh. Photo courtesy of Yale Divinity School
Sanneh’s loss is deeply felt among his colleagues.
“Africa has lost a great scholar and a public intellectual, whose foundational works on Islam and Christianity vividly capture the religious identities of millions of Africans,” wrote Jacob K. Olupona, professor of African religious traditions at Harvard Divinity School. “Sanneh’s scholarship transverses the two dominant religious traditions on the continent, Islam and Christianity, and has provided significant insight into how they define contemporary politics, identities and civil society.”
Olupona, writing from Nigeria, also expressed his own grief at Sanneh’s passing.
“I have lost a dear friend, a senior colleague and a fellow sojourner in the common quest for African religious space in the global religious community,” he said.
Irvin, who also serves as professor of world Christianity at New York Theological Seminary and as editor of the Journal of World Christianity, called Sanneh “one of the most effective and insightful interpreters of world Christianity in the past century.”
“He was a persistent critic of the entrenched territorial Christendom of the West and the accompanying tendency to reduce Christianity to its Western tribal forms,” Irvin said. “He never tired of asking why should he as an African be considered accountable for the failures of Western colonial Christianity. His brilliance was to see beyond the arrogance of the West to uncover a deeper spiritual truth about the faith he so deeply embodied. We have lost a major prophetic figure.”
Dana Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity and History of Mission at Boston University, spoke of Sanneh as a “giant in the field of world Christianity.”
“His loss sends a tidal wave across multiple fields, institutions and continents,” Robert said. “He will be sorely missed by those of us who worked with him and called him a friend, as well as by people who knew him only from his powerful writings.”
Greg Sterling, dean of Yale Divinity School, said he recently gave Sanneh’s autobiography, “Summoned From the Margin,” as a gift to the school’s major donors.
“He had no idea that the gift would become the final testament of his life,” wrote Sterling.
In his autobiography, Sanneh wrote: “When someone dies, people say he or she has run out of rains. Life ends when we run dry.”
Anthea Butler. Courtesy photo
The rains may have run out for Sanneh, but his memory and scholarship will continue to refresh us for many years to come.
May he rest in peace.
(Anthea Butler is associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)
During the election, messages of hate, fear and intolerance were propagated across different media and into communities. And the messages continue. While parents view and listen to these ever-present messages, alongside them are their children, hearing these same messages through a lens ill-equipped to discern the implications of negative stereotypes and incorrect portrayals.
Throughout the election, children heard such things as Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and are “bringing drugs…bringing crime” and that African-Americans are “thugs” and “living in hell.”
These messages, no matter their voice, were designed and intended to target adults. As pediatricians, we’re now seeing, however, that children were listening and they are responding in ways we might not have anticipated.
As parents, caretakers and citizens, we have the power to turn this tide. And as we approach the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday, now is the time to explore ways to teach children to communicate with love and respect.
Stop the hate and offer love
One response to the messages children hear is to incite more hate. In April 2016, a now well-cited survey of 2,000 teachers conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Program found that more than half of respondents reported seeing an increase in uncivil discourse in their schools. This, along with other findings from the survey, was used to coin “The Trump Effect,” a term denoting the hateful acts performed by children and adults alike.
The change we’ve seen in children’s behavior may be happening for the same reason they react to the violence they see in media. Prior research has shown that children exposed to media violence have higher levels of violent behaviors, hostility and that they are more desensitized to violence, including a lower likelihood of intervening in an ongoing fight and less sympathy for the victims of violence. Media violence itself can instill fear in the young viewers that may be persistent for years.
Hate and intolerance touted in the media is no different. As is their nature developmentally, children adopt what they hear as truth, adapting it to their lives, and in many cases across the nation, acting upon it.
Another response can be love. Recently, a Facebook group was started by a Seattle-based mom, encouraging children to write letters to the president-elect explaining the importance of being kind. To date, 10,000 children have joined, from across the country, writing how kindness should guide the future administration. To quote one sixth grade child, “Please show kindness to people, no matter their race, religion, beliefs, or most importantly, who they are as a person.”
This dichotomy of responses begs the questions: Why are children uniquely positioned to respond to messages of hate strongly, and how do parents guide their children to respond with love over hate?
Developmental stages: A lens for media messages
Children’s actions may depend heavily on their developmental stage. Older teenagers are generally better able to discern the meaning and implications of the strong emotions conveyed in the media, but younger children often are unable to decode them.
Emotions like hate, fear and intolerance are complex. Younger children are not equipped to understand the context and ramifications associated with these complex emotions, especially when seen in an abstract form, such as media. In addition, we know that young children are not developmentally able to discern paralanguage, the complex, emotional undertones of speech. Without these underpinnings, it’s nearly impossible to understand when messages are rooted in sarcasm or are based on fallacious assumptions.
Parents fear loss of control
Older children may be able to think more critically about what they hear, but may have a hard time deciding what they should believe. Children who identify as a part of a minority group based on their race or ethnicity, nativity status, sexual orientation or ability status may also internalize the messages, which can lead to increased distress. This distress may be associated with concerning behaviors such as withdrawal, anger, anxiety and conduct problems.
In 2015, over 65 percent of Americans had a smartphone and over 95 percent of homes had a television. In 2016 The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of over 66,000 pediatricians, revised its policy statement to encourage the use of these types of media for children as young as 18 months in a structured way to facilitate learning.
However, many families feel conflicted on how to select for beneficial content, while filtering out the harmful content, such as stories that highlight hate and intolerance. A study published in the November issue of Annals of Family Medicine found caregivers felt they had less and less control over the content their children viewed in today’s age of rapidly evolving technologies.
This effect was seen increasingly in families with lower socioeconomic status and lower income. These caregivers wanted their children to be exposed to the advantageous aspects of technology, but worried about how to set limits and make the right choices for their children.
As parents, we know it is hard to totally shield our children from the media, so how do we silence the noise of hate and usher our children toward actions of love and respect?
Our path forward
The strongest change you can make is in your own home.
Here are four ways you can scaffold the messages our children hear, providing them with context and skills beyond their developmental stages to filter and respond to the hate and intolerance seen in the media.
Use your resources: There are many web-based tools that parents can turn to, including KidsHealth.org’s “Teaching Your Child Tolerance” and Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” toolkit. Both of these sites include developmentally appropriate stories and games to discuss racial and cultural differences with your child.
Talk to your child about responding with kindness: Even offhand statements can be felt as hateful to others. Creating a culture of kindness in your home can have ripple effects. Remember, tolerance does not mean tolerating hateful behavior. It means everyone deserves to be respected and should respect others. For example, if your child hears someone saying something intolerant, encourage them to speak up against it. However, instead of saying, “I think people who use racist and sexist language are stupid,” encourage them to demonstrate kindness: “I think it’s cool when we treat everyone with respect.”
Set a strong example and explain it to your child: While children pick up on everything we do, it’s even better to tell them what you’re doing. Become active in your community, volunteer locally, nationally or globally. Take your child along and get them involved. Even easier, show them how you respond to intolerant acts and explain to them why.
Teach your children to feel good about themselves and love their own culture: We know that children who struggle with self-esteem can respond by bullying others. Conversely, kids with higher self-esteem may bolster others around them. Emphasize your child’s own strengths and encourage them to explore their interests. Teach them about their own cultural background and instill a sense of cultural pride in your family. Being aware of the language we use and being intentional about our attitudes are skills child carry with them outside their home.
And remember, children are listening. While we may not be able to change the messages in the media, we can change how our children respond to them, and that change starts with you.
World War II fighter pilot John Lyle, a Tuskegee Airman, has died at the age of 98.
Lyle died Saturday at his home on Chicago’s South Side, his wife, Eunice, said Monday. She added that Lyle had been battling prostate cancer.
The members of the nation’s first black fighter squadron won acclaim for their aerial prowess and bravery, despite a military that imposed segregation on its African-American recruits while respecting the rights of German prisoners.
Lyle, who named his plane “Natalie” after his first wife, was credited with shooting down a German Messerschmitt.
“We flew 500 feet above the bombers to keep enemy fighters from hitting our guys,” he recalled in a 2012 interview with Jet magazine. “I loved flying, being up in the clouds, the scenery. I flew 26 combat missions, from southern Italy to Austria and southern Germany, over the Austrian Alps.”
Lyle told Jet he was fired upon several times.
“I watched bombers being torn apart, but they were performing the mission they signed up to do,” Lyle said. “And when I had to shoot the guy who was shooting at the planes I was protecting, I did not feel bad because that was my assignment.”