2011 News Highlights


Protesters descended on cities across the country to make their cases for the preservation or elimination of federal programs.

1. In politics, the battle over the federal budget raged all year.  Lisa Sharon Harper offered thoughts on a Christian approach to it,  others debated whether or not to lift the federal debt ceiling, and former New Jersey Secretary of State Rev. De Forest Soaries offered his thoughts on a potential deal, which some described as a Satan Sandwich.  As a  government shutdown loomed, a congressional “super-committee” failed to compromise, and the battle rages on.

Sparks flew with Herman Cain on the campaign trail. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

2. The 2012 presidential race heated up and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain briefly emerged as a Republican dark horse. We looked at his viability, asked if his candidacy was good for Americarealized he wouldn’t be easily written off, and lamented the scandal about which he may or may not have sung as he exited the race. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann speculated that blacks may have been better off under slavery and Larycia A. Hawkins offered the congresswoman a bit of advice. Texas governor Rick Perry limped along, but it seems his ‘Rainbow Right‘ coalition didn’t help him much, and fleeting front-runners Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were such long shots that they had nary a mention here until now.

3. Meanwhile, the Tea Party partied on and we talked to African Americans about the movement. First singer, author, and activist Loyd Marcus assured us that there are black Tea Partiers, then Tea Party activist Jesse Lee Peterson threatened to protest the NAACP’s annual convention and Hilary O. Shelton responded. Finally, LaVonne Neff reminded us that Tea Partiers need government programs too.

The Occupy Movement spread across the country.

4. From the other end of the political spectrum, the “Occupy” movement emerged and encamped across the country, but we asked: Is it too white and is it time for churches to take up the cause?

5. According to members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the biggest religion story of the year was the faith response to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Here at UrbanFaith, Todd Burke pondered what the terrorist’s death says about America.


Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and sentenced to death in Iran because of his Christian beliefs.

In international news, 1.) dictators Kim Jong-Il and Moammar Gadhafi died. UrbanFaith editorial director Ed Gilbreath provocatively asked if Ghadhafi was a martyr and Helen Lee, daughter of a North Korean refugee, shared her thoughts on what it means to love an enemy like Jong-Il. 2.) The Arab Spring captured our attention and historian Kurt Werthmuller offered lessons from the revolution. We covered 3.) various crisis in Africa, including those in  SomaliaUganda, Malawi, and Sudan, and 4.) we wondered if race played a role in the London riots that preceded the European financial crisis. Finally, 5.) DeVona Alleyne reminded us that real persecution is that which is faced by believers like Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death for his faith.


Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August.

On the cultural front, 1.) the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial finally opened, though not without controversy and not without delay.  2.) Historian Charles Marsh reflected on the death of Civil Rights icon and pastor Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. 3.) Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs’ also died this year and Jelani Greenridge meditated on the entrepreneur’s wisdom. 4.) The nation solemnly observed the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and dedicated a memorial at the World Trade Center site, as the war in Iraq that those attacks spurred finally came to an end. 5.) The 150th anniversary of Civil War went largely unnoticed, but not by us. And sadly, 6.) legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst a scandal over assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged pedophilia. Wil LaViest, Julian DeShazier, and I responded to the horrific news.


After 25 years Oprah Winfrey says goodbye to her talk show.

1.) In arts and entertainment, Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show after 25 years and we revisited the “Church of Oprah.” No need to fear a loss of black media power, however because 2.)  Forbes named Tyler Perry the richest man in Hollywood. We covered elements of his media empire here, here, here, and here. 3.) The Help opened in cinemas amidst plenty of debate about its merits or lack thereof. 4.) Controversial Gospel music crossover success stories like that of Tonéx got Jelani Greenridge thinking and we mourned the death of cross-over artist Jessy Dixon. 5.) Lastly, BET’s successful relaunch of The Game deserves a mention, even though our commentator didn’t care much for the values of the show (or lack thereof).


Bishop Eddie Long and Rev. Bernice King before she left his church.

In church and faith news, 1.) Bishop Eddie Long agreed to a financial settlement with four young men who accused him of sexual misconduct, Bernice King left his church in the aftermath, questions continued to swirl about the allegations, but Long didn’t step down from the pulpit until his wife filed for divorce this month. In better news, 2.) The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that the black church is bucking a wider trend toward congregational decline, and 3.) the Southern Baptists got serious about diversity with the election of  Rev. Fred Luter as their first African American vice president. We also reported on other denominations that are pursuing diversity. 4.) Pastor Rob Bell stirred up a theological hornet’s nest with his latest book and conservative authors responded. 5.) Finally, Rev. Zachery Tims met an untimely death in a New York City hotel room.

What do you think?

What stories did we miss? Which ones will you remember? What do you think will top the news in 2012?

Black America Feeling Heat over Budget

As the August 2 debt-ceiling deadline looms and our nation’s leaders continue to battle over possible solutions, media outlets are issuing dire warnings about what the impact could be on African Americans. A few are even assigning blame.

The New York Times, for example, hosted a discussion this week about how federal budget cuts will impact the black middle class given that 20 percent of black workers are reportedly employed by the government. Seven writers discussed the issue. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

“This crisis has been at the level of a full economic depression within black communities. …The combination of blocked roads to social mobility, continuing economic crisis, the near unanimous belief among blacks that racism remains a major problem in the United States, and the consequent widespread and growing despair about the prospects for racial equality provide the grounds, if not the inevitability, for an ever more volatile and conflicted racial landscape,” said Michael C. Dawson, director of the Center for Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago.

“The public sector is the leading employer of black men and the second-largest employer of black women.  … In recent decades, government jobs have been the gateway to the middle class for blacks, the same way that municipal jobs helped the Irish, Italians and other immigrant groups move up to the middle class in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, blacks got on the train as it was coming to the end of the line,” said Walter Russell Mead, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College.

“This is only part of the story. Not only are middle-class blacks more likely to be public sector employees, but they are also disproportionate consumers of public sector goods,” said Mary Patillo, Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University. Black children, for example, are more likely than white children to attend public schools. When teachers are laid off, these children are “disproportionately hurt,” she said.

African Americans’ “growing presence in government has actually moderated their policy views, and they are not as liberal as they were during the 1970s and early 1980s,” said Katherine Tate, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. “Middle-class blacks, even government workers, are likely to support some downsizing to balance the federal budget. … Having blacks involved, as mayors or state legislative leaders within their parties, makes the politics of these unpleasant decisions more palatable for blacks,” she said.

Meanwhile, The Department of Justice is preparing to file suit against Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest home mortgage lender, for predatory lending that targeted African American borrowers during the housing bubble and steered them into expensive subprime loans, The Huffington Post reports.

This lawsuit follows a similar one filed against the company by the Federal Reserve last week. That suit alleged that “more than 10,000 borrowers were inappropriately steered into subprime mortgage loans or had their loan documents falsified by bank personnel.” Wells Fargo agreed to settle for $85 million, but did not admit wrongdoing, the article said.

The mortgage crisis was really a case of altruism gone awry, according to Scott Walter at Philanthropy Daily. He advanced a book by Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter Gretchen Morgenson and housing finance specialist Joshua Rosner called Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption led to Economic Armageddon that blames the housing meltdown and the Great Recession on public-private partnerships. Walter said a “critical turning point” was when, in 1999, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Andrew Cuomo “demanded ‘new and aggressive affordable housing goals’ for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” He describes the “structural racism” Cuomo and others were trying to address through this action as a “fairy tale.”

In a review of the book at Forbes, however, John Tamny disputed this notion, saying the “hard right” will love the book because it affirms their belief, “despite basic evidence, ” that Democrats advancement of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is to blame and the “hard left” will “be cheered by Reckless” because of their view that “Wall Street, deregulation and greed drove the housing boom.”

“Both sides will finish the book bursting with facts and quotes that will merely confirm views already held deeply. As for those still searching for answers to explain what just happened, they still won’t know,” said Tamny.

In a post about the historic black/white wealth gap at The American Prospect,  Adam Serwer grapples with the denial of structural racism in the budget debate.

“”It takes an incredible psychological commitment to one’s own victimhood for conservative elites to look at numbers like these and then tell people that, while the decline in your economic circumstances is the result of some external, malignant racist force while the much larger destruction of minority middle class wealth over the past few years is due simply to those people being ‘losers,'” said Serwer.

And this morning at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates linked to an MSNBC clip in which Melissa Harris-Perry argues that government social engineering did, in fact, lead to the wealth gap between whites and blacks, but in exactly the opposite way that big government critics argue.

Regardless of the cause of the financial crisis, The Grio reports that elderly black woman will likely “bear the brunt of the budget fight.” Citing a study by the National Women’s Law Center, it said “the median annual Social Security benefit for a 65-year-old single African American woman is $10,680” and a proposed bill “would slash Social Security benefits to seniors by 0.3 percent every year they collect a check.” For elderly women who live in expensive urban areas, these cuts could push them into poverty.

Finally, Time reports that “nearly a dozen religious leaders were arrested inside the Capitol on Thursday while praying and protesting a budget that would balance itself on the backs of the poor” and prayer vigils continue outside the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.

What do you think? Will Republicans and Democrats resolve their differences by Tuesday? If they don’t, how do you think a default will affect you? What is the role of faith in confronting a crisis like this?