James Weldon Johnson, poet, essayist, and author of Lift Every Voice and Sing. Johnson’s magisterial work is often referred to as the “Negro National Anthem”. (Photo courtesy of ASCAP.com)
Around 1900, the legendary African-American author and composer James Weldon Johnson penned Lift Every Voice and Sing. He didn’t mean for it to become “The Negro National Anthem” but the song was so powerful and inspirational that it was informally adopted as such. People of all races and religions – from America to Angola to Japan – have been invigorated by it ever since.
Rabbi Stephen Wise, an NAACP member during the 1920s, once wrote that it is “the noblest anthem I have ever heard. It is a great upwelling of prayer from the soul of a race-long wronged but with a faith unbroken.”
One hundred and thirteen years later, I pray that African-Americans would once again be galvanized by the words of this song. In addition to being historic and spiritual, the words of Lift Every Voice and Sing could serve as a guidepost for us as we strive to “Return to Royalty” and be all God created us to be as individuals and as a people.
Let’s look at a few of the lyrics:
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us…”
Johnson wrote that the intense oppression we suffered during slavery made our faith in God strong. With nothing else to latch onto, with nothing else to put our hope in, we clung to God. This is biblical, as the children of Israel did the same thing whenever they were oppressed.
Even as individuals, we have a tendency to call on God when times are tough, yet to ignore Him when He prospers us. As a people, we must fight the urge and the temptation to forget God now that we have more money, more political clout, more opportunities, and more education. We have to remember that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17) and that God has not given us these gifts for us to leave Him out.
Johnson also talked of singing about this faith. A song is something that’s recited repeatedly. So in other words, we should consistently remind ourselves of the journey God has brought our people through. Again, this was the case with the Israelites, who constantly taught generation after generation about how God brought them out of Egypt and showed Himself strong to them.
This appears to be something we have lost as a people as much of the younger generation seems cut off from, and oblivious to, our history. When the younger generation not only glosses over the idea that hearing the N-word upsets their elders (many of whom may have seen brutal treatment associated with that word), but actually fights adamantly to defend their usage of it, the importance of our history clearly is not being transferred from old to young.
“Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us…”
At the turn of the 20th century, when there were far fewer reasons for Black folks to be optimistic, Johnson wrote about being full of hope. Today, even though we’ve got a Black president, even though we’ve got superstar entertainers and athletes, even though we have prolific individuals in practically every field of endeavor, too many Black children are afraid they’ll die at the hands of another Black person and won’t grow to see adulthood. And more and more young Black males are killing themselves. Throughout slavery and Jim Crow segregation, Blacks had astonishingly low rates of suicide, especially considering the racism and oppression they experienced on a daily basis. But since the 1980s, the suicide rate for Black men has been rising rapidly. Too many of our youth can’t sing a song full of hope.
Hope is a sign of our connection to God, for knowing God and how awesome, powerful and miracle-working He naturally gives us hope. That significant numbers of Black kids don’t think they’ll live past 18 years of age or feel compelled to take their own lives shows that we haven’t adequately shown them how to be connected to God through Jesus Christ.
How could a people less than 40 years out of slavery, who had all the gains of Reconstruction taken away, sing of hope, and yet today, with all the progress we’ve made, many of our children are hopeless? What’s the difference?
Jesus Christ and the church was the hub of the Black community back then. Not so anymore. Johnson sums it up in his final chorus:
“Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee…”
As a people, let’s restore the place the Lord Jesus Christ once had in our personal lives, in our families, and in our communities. He showed Himself strong to us. In much bleaker times than this, He enabled us to produce newspapers, mutual aid societies, insurance companies and more. He gave us the strength to “keep hope alive” and to endure slavery and to believe that “we shall overcome” against the most tremendous of odds.
Though the Black family had been decimated during slavery, when Christ was our center, roughly 90% of Black children were born into a home where the father was present in 1920. In 1960, that number was 80%. Today, it’s less than 30%. It seems that as our faith in Christ has gotten weaker, we as a people have gotten weaker as well. Let’s learn from the song and stay true to its closing lines:
“Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land”
This is not to belittle the systemic, institutional and racist obstacles that still work against us; it’s just to say let’s take responsibility for what we can control, first and foremost by having true and sincere faith in the God Johnson wrote about all those years ago.
Ebony magazinejust released its March “The Real Life Scandal” Issue, which highlights real life scandals from the black community and features actress Kerry Washington on the cover, sharing her perspective as an A-list actress, political advocate, and health-conscious feminist. Truth be told: We know little of Washington’s personal life and that’s exactly how she plans to keep it. She would much rather prefer that we talk about the nature and accomplishments of her body of artistic work, and since its origin last April, everyone is talking about her hit television show Scandal.
Concerning that show, I got caught up. I love seeing intelligent, articulate, attractive, powerful, relevant, and well-dressed Black women on movie and television screens as much as the next sista. Trust me. The scenes are all the more interesting and impactful when played by such a well-versed and talented actress as Washington. But when all of that window dressing simply becomes trapping for yet another powerful woman who succumbs to the desires of her lustful heart (especially with a married man), all of the respect stored up for the character burns up in smoke. It’s hard to keep cheering for Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, when you know her affair will ultimately result in a loss for all parties involved. Olivia, her lover, and his pregnant wife all lose and that’s the real sad story for many in today’s society.
Actress Kerry Washington accepts the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series award for “Scandal” during the 44th NAACP Image Awards. (Photo Credit: Jim Ruymen/Newscom)
I want more for Olivia and I want more for us. Behind the camera lens of Scandal is the show’s creator and writer, Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes’ writing is outstanding and the story lines are compelling. She constantly keeps us on the edge of our seats. That’s what makes the show great and so easy to watch. All of her characters are power players, fast talking, and quick on their feet as they engage in a game of chess with each other’s lives. The actors are all phenomenal, but at the end of the day, it’s Rhimes who is in the ultimate position of power.
Through this political drama, Rhimes uses her power to celebrate the stories of those thirsty for greed and power, those with murderous hearts, those who are unapologetic about living lives of lies and deceit, and those involved in unhealthy, adulterous and unnatural relationships. Although Olivia’s entourage refers to themselves as “gladiators in suits,” there are little redemptive qualities in any of the show’s primary characters. It doesn’t take long to figure out that there are no good guys or gals, and that’s the gist of Rhimes’ creation.
Yet my primary issue is neither with Washington nor Rhimes; my concern is with the Christian women and men like me who watch this show weekly with no discernment. I have seen professing Christians defend the show to the nth degree. “Why criticize a work of fiction?” they ask. My first conviction concerning this question came on the day of the Newtown school shootings. The night prior to that horrific event, I watched an episode of Scandal where an assassin killed an innocent family including two small children and their dog. The next day, a Facebook acquaintance and fellow Christian found it hard to reconcile approving of the murder of innocent children on a television, while at the same time being appalled when a similar, yet worst, event happens in real life.
The sad truth of our culture—and Ebony’s publishers play on this reality—is: The lines between fact and fiction, what’s real and what’s fantasy, have become quite blurry. This is the result of a booming market for “reality” shows, over exposure to strangers through virtual lives and social media, the sensationalism of our news reporting (How often do you witness a positive news story?), and the senseless pandering of our politicians. I won’t forget how angry I was when Sarah Palin used careless “lock and load” language all over a news broadcast, and the young man who locked and loaded just days after Palin’s rant. Was this a coincidence? His response resulted in the deaths and injuries of several human beings, including U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. Because this is the culture we live in, we must all be more responsible concerning the use of our power and how we choose to engage our mediums of communication.
We should not use our power to only serve our own self-interests. Many thoughtful African-Americans thought this was the case with BET’s founder, Bob Johnson, and hence they tuned him and the station out. We should not neglect the opportunities to use our power for good in this world, and I believe the messages and images of Scandal present a missed opportunity. Ebony reports that Washington “is the first Black woman to star in a major network American TV drama since 1974.” Therefore, Washington’s accomplishment is worthy of celebration. In addition to Scandal, Rhimes is also the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the dramas, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, both of which at the core tell the stories of flawed humans who are helping and healing other people. Am I looking for all perfect characters on every show? No. Am I advocating for an all Christian line-up with shows full of Christianese language? Not at all.
However, I do believe in a culture where the line between fiction and nonfiction, truth and lies, and fantasy and reality is becoming more unclear, we have to question what is means to have power, and consider the consequences of how we use our power to engage the world. I agree with Kerry Washington that, “Power is always about choices.” Washington chooses which roles she plays. Rhimes decides how she uses her power to tell stories and send messages into the world. As a consumer, I no longer choose to watch Scandal. As a writer, I challenge you to consider: What kind of empowerment do we, as a community of Black people, really want? What will you do, and what should we all do with power once it is obtained?
A DISTINGUISHED BREAKTHROUGH?: Will this man, Lamar Hurd, become the first Black "Bachelor" on ABC's popular reality show?
When I stumbled upon the news that Lamar Hurd launched a campaign to become the first Black man cast on ABC’s The Bachelor, I sighed and shook my head.
Let me say this up front: I hold no ill will toward Lamar Hurd. A late-20s sportscaster based out of my hometown of Portland, Hurd is the type of guy I should have no problem finding likeable. He was a standout ballplayer at Oregon State, and went on to play pro ball overseas for a year before returning to build a career in broadcasting.
So what I want for him is the same thing I want for me, my loved ones, and really for all people in general — to have lives of significance, spent in the pursuit of our God-given purposes, developing meaningful relationships along the way. According to a recent interview, his faith is an important part of his life, so I think that he probably wants the same thing for himself.
Which is why I hope he changes his mind and stops trying to get on that show.
Because 20 years from now, I don’t think being the first Black guy on The Bachelor is something he’ll look back on with much pride or accomplishment. Even if we ignore the lawsuit that two other African American applicants filed decrying The Bachelor’s lack of diversity, the political or cultural implications of achieving diversity goals via class action litigation in general, and how it might negatively impact Hurd if he’s cast as a result of public pressure to fulfill a quota … even if we ignore all of that … it’s still a bad idea.
Not that I don’t understand the allure, though.
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I understand the whole First Black Guy thing. My dad was the First Black Guy in his region to take a full-time staff role at a particular faith-based nonprofit. I was among the first few Black guys to graduate my elite private high school. There is a certain element of privilege at being able to break through a perceived color barrier, which is part of the reason why President Obama will always occupy a special place in history, regardless of the efficacy of his political legacy.
But we’re not talking about politics, or academics, or even sports. No, Lamar, we’re talking about reality television.
(Can I call you “Lamar?”)
This is the genre that made household names out of Kato Kaelin, Omarosa, and Jon Gosselin. Is this really the venue where you want to establish your reputation, a show where the male protagonist is encouraged to sample ladies like hors d’oeuvres at the supermarket? It’s not exactly consistent with the kind of sterling character and integrity that you spotlight in your campaign video below.
C’mon, Lamar. Not only does this have the potential to make you look bad, but seriously … do you really want to select a wife from a pool of women who are incentivized to actively compete for your attention? When the woman in Proverbs 31 is mentioned as being shrewd in the marketplace, she’s supposed to be the seller, not the product on display.
Plus, even if we assume that you and your prospective wife both succeed in participating in the show without degrading yourselves — a long shot, to be sure — it’s still no way to prepare for a long, committed, prosperous marriage. Because anytime she disappoints you by not living up to your expectations, you’ll be tempted to compare her to one of the other dozen ladies who caught your eye before, and think, “Shoot, I should have picked her instead.”
If you’re really serious about your faith, then put more of it in God than in a reality TV show. You may be surprised by how well He can meet your deepest needs and desires, even those you’re not aware of.
Or, if you prefer, think about this like a basketball player. Do some scouting. Research the last ten guys cast as The Bachelor. Find out how many of those guys are still dating or married to the woman they selected. Then ask yourself if this show will get you the best, highest-percentage shot at a successful marriage.
And if none of that works … just hit me up, bro. I know a few ladies who could be a good fit for you. I don’t know if they share any of your likes or dislikes, but I know they have more sense than to audition for The Bachelor.
With 122 fatalities, 750 injured, and nearly 6 miles of debris, the tornado that hit Joplin, MO., last Sunday is the deadliest single tornado in 60 years. Please continue to pray for this devastated community. And if you’re looking for ways to donate to the various relief efforts, see the opportunities to share below.
• Click here to donate funds to the Joplin, MO Disaster Relief.
After government troops collided with armed tribesmen, causing 10 fatalities, Yemen braced for the worst. Protesters gathered on Friday to demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh end his 33-year-rule. With the intensity rising in Yemen, and frequent battles between the local government and the tribesmen, residents brace for the worst. Let us keep Yemen in prayer.
3 ART JEREMY GEDDES OIL PAINTINGS LOOK LIKE PHOTOGRAPHS Contemporary artist Jeremy Geddes continues to leave his fans mind boggled with his realistic paintings. His latest, “A Perfect Vacuum,” is perhaps, his most incredible yet. The piece is the first reveal of a series, which will premiere at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in spring 2012. If he isn’t considered one of the greatest realist oil painters of all time, he is sure to enter the conversation as a candidate next year based on this incredible preview.
4 MUSIC THE GREAT DEBATE: DOES BEYONCÉ EVER DO ANYTHING ORIGINAL? As much as I appreciate Beyoncé’s fierce return, I understand why some fans cannot respect the fact that not only has she ripped off Pon de Floor, with her new single, Girls, but also her Billboard performance was, yet, another great idea from someone else. #Bottomline: Beyoncé is without question an incredible artist, but is her propensity for grabbing inspiration from other artists simply a case of “the sincerest form of flattery,” or is it something else?
5 EDUCATION BARRY BONDS’ REPUTATION ON THE UPSWING
Bonds was convicted last month for obstruction of justice for lying to a grand jury about using steroids last month, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing good deeds. After Giants fan, Bryan Stow, was beaten outside Dodger Sradium, and left in a coma, Bonds offered to pay for his two children’s future college tuition. The tuition is a start (awesome job, Mr. Bonds), but healing for Mr. Stow is probably the first thing on the Stow family’s hearts right now. Let’s keep them in our prayers during this difficult time.
Case Study: Aaron Castellanos started a T-shirt business, which showed promising signs of growth. So he ordered excess supplies on credit, which turned out to be a huge mistake. For help, he turned to veteran entrepreneur Norm Brodsky, who advised him to change to a print-on-demand model which would allow him to better control inventory while still making a margin. In this age of variety and customizable products, businesses need to ditch the “Ford Model-T mass production process” and embrace the “Pandora give the customer exactly what they want” model.
SEO might be the single most important aspect of any online business. The problem is that most companies, even large ones, do not capitalize or even understand how vital it is. Using a tool like Wordtracker, search for keywords that users would search for when researching your company’s services. Second, you want to ensure that the search engines can find the keywords easily. Third, you want to use a site like Validatos, which will find bugs in your coding and ensure that your site is as organized as possible.
ABC’s new series Good Christian Belles was originally called Good Christian B****es, based on Kim Gatlin’s book of the same title. Due to obvious backlash, they changed the title. The show takes place in Dallas, Texas, where Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb) returns after a divorce. Amanda finds that her old high school acquaintances have not changed; they are still full of both good Christian geniality and scandal. Honest depiction of Christian life or unnecessary defamation?
Since her Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s True Grit, I HEART Hailee Steinfeld and cannot wait for her to star in this new take on the Shakespeare classic. Lilly Collins, who portrayed Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side, was originally cast in the film but canceled due to schedule conflicts. I know Steinfield can nail this role! See an iinterview below!
10 CELEB WHEN SPONSORSHIPS GO WRONG: JUSTIN BIEBER PERFUME
I have no doubt that Justin Bieber can sell anything, including perfume. But this awful commercial would fall flat if it weren’t for the swarms of pre-teen girls that dream of getting a kiss from Bieber “Someday,” the name of the fragrance. Watch the commercial that should have never been below!