#DanRyanShutDown — Do protests really change policy?

#DanRyanShutDown — Do protests really change policy?

As I watched a diverse group of activists, beyond frustrated with gun violence in Chicago, shut down the Dan Ryan, one of the busiest expressways in the Chicago area, I felt a solidarity with their cause. Led by Father Pfleger of St. Sabina Church and Rev. Jesse Jackson on Saturday, July 7, thousands of activists from all areas of the city and the suburbs screamed “shut it down” right before they took over all four lanes of the expressway on the northbound lanes from 79th Street to 67th Street.

When I texted a friend of mine, who is very active in her South Side Chicago community, she was a lot less enthused about the event.

“What I don’t get is we’re primarily killing each other. How does marching on the highway reduce crime in our own community?”

I countered that it’s hard to ignore the problem when people practice civil disobedience. Then she responded, “Agreed, but it doesn’t influence or shape policy.”

She has a point about us killing each other, but I’m not sure I agree that civil disobedience and non-violent protests won’t change policy. This past spring, there were organized national marches in Chicago and across the nation against gun violence in schools and in the streets — nothing much has changed…yet. As of the first week in July, more than 1300 people have been shot in Chicago this year, according to The Chicago Tribune. And new school shootings seem to happen on the regular. But we’ve seen how peaceful protests have turned a bad situation around in the past.

President Trump has argued that Chicago has some of the toughest gun control laws, but some suggest the laws are actually too lenient. Whatever your political bent, that doesn’t take away from the fact that we need to continue the tradition of putting our faith in action to make change happen and our communities safer. Next week, I’m not sure anyone will remember this march. But the pressure does let politicians know that although we join them in their thoughts and prayers, we also demand more effective solutions. Gov. Rauner, we heard you, but are you listening?

Jesse Jackson: Christians Must Stay Engaged in the Political Process

RIDING THE THIRD RAIL: Rev. Jesse Jackson says politics isn’t enough.

With one day left until the election, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has the presidential candidates “deadlocked.” But no matter who wins, Christians must stay engaged in the political process, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said last week at Columbia University. Our faith demands it.

“It is not the politics of the two parties that take us far; it is the protest and conscientious objection of the third rail that takes us far,” Jackson said October 25 during a conversation about “Politics, Religion, and the Presidential Race. (The other two participants were The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel and Columbia University visiting religion scholar Obery Hendricks.)

Hearkening back to his own historic 1988 presidential run and to his work during the civil rights movement, Jackson said, “Change comes from the third rail. … We must discuss what was not discussed on the agenda, and that means we must not be so co-opted by politics … or so absorbed by it to lose the distinction.” In fact, President Obama was a student at Columbia when Jackson debated Water Mondale and Gary Hart, Jackson said, and Obama concluded from the debate that a black man could become president.

“Part of our movement has been to raise the issues not raised,” he said. “Those are issues of the inconvenient, issues of conscience.” Difficult questions have made past presidents better, Jackson explained, and if this president is reelected, as Jackson hopes, supporters must not “let him down” by failing to raise “the right questions of conscience so as to give him the right options from which to make choices.”

Asked what role spirituality can play in politics, Jackson said, “You can be spiritual but have no moral mandate and substance. … Those of us who are Christians have a leader who is spiritual with a concrete agenda.” That agenda is to love the Lord our God and treat our neighbors as ourselves, he said. ‘The Spirit gives a mandate to do something, … It  means feed the hungry. It means care for those whose backs are against the wall. You can be spiritual and not do anything. You cannot be a Christian without doing that.”

Jesus was born under death warrant from a regime that was trying to stop the rise of leadership in an “occupied zone,” Jackson said. His mission was not about the middle class, but about preaching the good news to the poor and challenging religious complicity with Rome and its oppressive tendencies. “Our morality is measured by how we treat not the middle of these, but the least of these,” Jackson said. “I was hungry and you fed me, not I was not hungry and you gave me a vacation.”

Jackson complained that when the moderator of the vice presidential debate asked candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan how their shared Catholic faith informs their positions on abortion, both men gave political answers to a religious question. “They gave an American answer to a Christianity question and the moderator accepted it and didn’t delve deeper,” Jackson said.

Likewise, concern for Obama’s reelection has meant that some questions of conscience that could lead to his greatness are not being raised by his supporters, Jackson said. Questions must be disciplined, not hostile, though, if they are to be heard. “To me,  that is the progressive tension,” he said. “How do we raise the right questions to our friends?”

What do you think?

If your candidate wins, will you keep riding the third rail?


Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Mystery Mood Disorder

IN THE SHADOWS: Shame and stigma can be barriers to treatment for mental illness. Could this be one reason for the secrecy surrounding Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s mood disorder hospitalization?

After weeks of speculation about why U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) has been on medical leave from Congress for “exhaustion” since early June, his office finally announced that he is receiving “intensive” inpatient treatment for an unspecified mood disorder and is “expected to make a full recovery.” The statement did not say what the disorder is, where Jackson is being treated, or who is treating him, The Chicago Tribune reported, but it did say he is not being treated for alcoholism as had been rumored. Citing privacy concerns, Jesse Jackson Sr. has declined to discuss the specifics of his son’s illness with the press, but surrogates have shot down rumors that Jackson Jr. attempted suicide. Speaking at the Rainbow PUSH coalition conference in Chicago last week, his mother, Jackie Jackson, said her son “is unwell” and “needs a moment to heal.” She also suggested that he lacks the internal resources of his parents in dealing with political “disappointments.”  “I want to encourage him to hold on – to hold on to God’s unchanging hand, not this politics. See, I play politics, I don’t live it. I live in the house with God,” said Mrs. Jackson.

JESSE JACKSON JR.: The congressman has been sidelined by scandal and now an unspecified mood disorder.

Jackson Jr. has been caught up in the scandal that sent former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison for attempting to sell President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. He is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegations that he participated in a scheme to fund raise for Blagojevich in exchange for the seat. Amidst the scandal, Jackson Jr. also admitted to having an extramarital affair.

Randy Auerbach, a psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News that Jackson may have “a genetic predisposition that might make him more vulnerable to a mood disorder.” Depression and bipolar disorder are cited as common mood disorders in the article, with nearly 17 percent of the population experiencing depression in their lifetimes and 4 percent receiving a bipolar diagnosis. “An individual may have a certain vulnerability and in presence of stress, it may trigger the onset of a disorder,” Auerbach said. “Significant life stress is enough to contribute to a depressive episode about 50 percent of the time.”

Because stigma and shame are often barriers to treatment for African Americans and may be playing a role in the secrecy surrounding Jackson Jr.’s diagnosis, we decided to talk to  LaTonya Mason Summers, executive director of LifeSkills Counseling and Consulting Group in Charlotte, North Carolina, about Jackson Jr.’s hospitalization and common barriers to treatment in the Black community. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

UrbanFaith: Jesse Jackson Jr. has reportedly been hospitalized for a mood disorder. In general, something serious has to be going on for someone to be admitted for inpatient treatment. Is that correct?

LaTonya Mason Summers: Yes, absolutely. There are usually three criteria to go inpatient. You have to be homicidal, suicidal, or in a psychotic state. People are not admitted for mental exhaustion, unless it’s mental exhaustion with suicidal ideation and a plan. For mental exhaustion, you go on vacation.

If someone has financial resources, could they just check themselves into a facility?

That I don’t know. The criteria may not be the same at centers where you go when you have money. But on our level, you have to be psychotic, suicidal or homicidal.

I’ve heard at least one person express skepticism about Jackson Jr.’s diagnosis. As a journalist, I understand that, but I still find it difficult to believe someone would accept the stigma of having a mood disorder to avoid prosecution.

You would be surprised. I’m not saying that is true or not, but there is a protection when it’s mental health. If you go out of work for mental health, you cannot be fired. When you are in an inpatient hospital, you cannot be arrested. There are certain things that cannot happen until you are discharged.

In our email conversation, you said decreasing barriers to mental health in the Black community is your “soapbox.” Why?

Because here in North Carolina, there are not many African-American providers and I think it helps to have African-American providers, so that African American clients have more access to care. Because there are not many providers, the consumers haven’t necessarily been there, but the number is growing.

One thing I do is I groom African-American providers in the community through the North Carolina Black Mental Health Alliance. A friend of mine and I formed that so that professionals in the community could go further. Some of them might have Bachelors degrees and we encourage them to get Masters degrees. We provide internships and opportunities and we supervise them through licensure so that they are more qualified to provide services. And then, I groom clinicians so that they can become private practitioners and not necessarily work in mental health institutions. There is more of a stigma with those institutions, so African Americans are not as likely to get services if they have to go to a local mental health center. But on a more private level, it’s more acceptable.

Also, churches are becoming more accepting of mental health problems. For African Americans, the church has always been the place to go when you needed help. But the church would say, “Just pray,” “Let go and let God,” and “Keep it in the church or keep it to yourself.” Now that they’re becoming more open, more African Americans are coming to counseling.

According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness fact sheet on African American mental health, only two percent of psychiatrists, two percent of psychologists, and four percent of social workers are Black. Does that sound about right to you?


What kinds of things are barriers to care?

One is a language barrier. This is a double-edged sword, but a lot of African-American clients come to me and say, “I’m  so glad that there are African-American providers because I can say things to you that I wouldn’t say to a White person.” They might say, “Girl, I wanted to beat the black off my kid.” Well, that is a common colloquialism, but should they say that to someone who is not African American, then the department of social services might be called. The double-edged sword is that we African-American therapists may miss abuse because we understand that terminology.

Also, there is a class issue. I had a White therapist who used to work for me when maybe 90 percent of my practice was African American. She was working with a child and also working with the mom on parenting issues. She told the mom to get the child a dog. Now, we know dogs are therapeutic and if you say that to one culture, that may be more acceptable, but to this African American family that was struggling financially, the mom was thinking, “I can’t really feed my kids. How in the world am I going to go get a dog?”

Another thing is that White clinicians may recommend medications more readily than African-American clinicians. I’ve been doing this for 16 years and African-American clients still freeze up when I recommend medication because there is a stigma of taking medications, whereas in the White population that’s okay.

I’ve read that African Americans tend to be diagnosed with more severe mental illnesses than Whites who present with similar symptoms. What do you recommend to overcome these kinds of obstacles?

I definitely recommend counseling and I don’t recommend that African Americans only go to African Americans. I would say there are some African Americans we may not be able to relate to. Culturally, lower income populations may not necessarily come to a designer dressed African-American professional because that might present a barrier. But for someone who can come down a bit and be more urban, but still professional, they may be able to relate. I also recommend that churches be open to recommending counseling and psychiatry and I recommend diversity training for those in the mental health field.

Has the situation gotten any better?

LA TONYA MASON SUMMERS: “For African Americans, the church has always been the place to go when you needed help.”

No. Most of the studies that are done for medications are done on White middle class volunteers, so psychiatrists and physicians still have to adjust the medication and dosages for African Americans. We feel like guinea pigs in trying to find the right dosages. Volunteers in the some of the depression studies are White middle class Americans. Africans Americans don’t show up for stuff like that. So it’s kind of hard to put something together for us because we don’t participate in those kinds of things. I was trained at primarily White Appalachian State University, and even counseling theories were developed by Whites. And so, African-American clinicians have to adapt those theories for African Americans, because they just don’t fit.

And yet, according to the NAMI fact sheet, some of the social barometers that hinder African Americans in regard to wealth, employment, family structure, etc. are associated with greater risk for mental illness. Have you seen an increase in distress among Blacks since the economic downturn?

Yes. I started doing trainings three or four years ago on treating “recession depression.” Someone made up that description, but I thought it was great and started doing research and started publishing on it. The thing that would happen in my practice is that there were Caucasians and upper class African Americans who used to have money and would come for counseling to deal with downward emotions and a down-turned economy, but then the lower income African Americans who had always struggled were struggling even more, so I would have to adapt counseling for two different populations.

How did you adapt it for those populations?

In counseling we don’t ask about money, and so when I started training therapists, I was saying we have to ask people about money, because money is still taboo. People would tell us everything under the sun, but would not bring up financial issues. When you ask, you hear people are in foreclosure, repossessions, and filing bankruptcy. But those are things we would have never known and still don’t know unless we ask. Then, knowing community resources and national resources. What is North Carolina doing for homeowners? What is the U.S. doing? What’s going on in the White House, where they are providing resources for people who are losing their houses and jobs?

It can be difficult for working class people to pay for treatment in a good economy. I can’t imagine in this economy that it’s even an option.

I take Master’s degree level students who are training to become counselors as interns twice a year, and I run a free counseling program, because so many North Carolinians are without insurance. If you don’t have insurance, the only resources available are local mental health centers, but African Americans do not want to go there. No one wants to go there. They’re loud. You may not get the best care. You’re a number. All of that. So, we run a five-month program twice a year, for ten months throughout the year with these students. With supervision, they counsel people who don’t have insurance. It’s a huge program. There are a couple of my colleagues who do the same thing, but if many of us would take it on, people who don’t have insurance could get the help they need.

What I hear you saying is that you would encourage people to get help if they need it.

Yes, I certainly would and hopefully there will come a day when we’ll be able to name disorders, and it won’t be some mystery illness. Should Jackson Jr. name it, there might be more people who come forward, especially as influential as he is. Politically, I know they may not necessarily want to say, but when we lay people see celebrities dealing with stuff, we find it inspirational and encouraging. But there’s still that stigma of mental illness where you can’t give a name. It has to be some mystery.

Taking Stock of the Trayvon Martin Case

COMPLICATED PICTURE: After a week of protests and media hysteria, the Trayvon Martin case has taken yet another turn as information emerges that calls Trayvon's character into question.

Yesterday was the one month anniversary of when Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. If it weren’t for the work of journalists, this story would never have made national news and the U.S. Department of Justice would not be investigating the case for civil rights violations. Neither would a grand jury have been convened in Florida to hear evidence about it, nor would the Sanford, Florida, police chief have “temporarily” left his post and been replaced with a black man. But, if it weren’t for the work of journalists, the rush to judgment about the case also would not have happened.

Conflicting Accounts

In the past week, we’ve learned that Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend moments before the shooting. She has said that Martin told her someone was following him and that she heard Martin ask the man why before a scuffle broke out between them. But Sanford Police Department sources told the Orlando Sentinel that Zimmerman said Martin attacked him as he was walking back to his SUV and that Martin tried to take his gun and slammed his head into the ground.

Maligning and Defending Trayvon Martin’s Character

Conservative websites have begun to malign the character of Martin, who had been portrayed as a wholesome teen. They published pictures and status updates that they claimed were taken from Martin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to show that he had tattoos and gold teeth and implied he sold drugs, as if these supposed facts were somehow relevant. But a website reportedly owned by conservative pundit Michelle Malkin issued an apology for publishing one widely circulated photo, saying it was not, in fact, the Trayvon Martin who was shot to death by Zimmerman. And journalist Geraldo Rivera was roundly criticized, even by his own son, for suggesting that Martins’s choice of attire was as responsible for his death as Zimmerman was.

In response, Martin’s parents held a press conference. His father, Tracy Martin, said, “Even in death, they are still disrespecting my son, and I feel that that’s a sin.” His mother, Sybrina Fulton, said, “They killed my son, and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” The family is asking for donations to keep their fight for justice going and Fulton has reportedly filed for trademarks to the phrases “I am Trayvon” and “Justice for Trayvon.” She, of course, has been criticized for that. Martin’s friends, meanwhile, say they can’t imagine Trayvon picking a fight with anyone.

Catalyst for National Discussion

On Friday, President Obama spoke out on the killing, saying we all need to do “some soul searching” and if he had a son, the boy would look like Trayvon. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich immediately pounced on Obama’s statement, suggesting the president’s comments were racially divisive. At the same time, Gingrich and fellow GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum each called Martin’s death a “tragedy,” and Santorum suggested that Zimmerman’s actions were different from those protected by Florida’s “stand your ground” laws.

On Sunday, Christians (mostly black ones) wore hoodies to church in solidarity with Martin. On Monday, New York State legislators wore them on the senate floor. Everyone seemed to be talking about having “the talk” with their black children, and people, including me, began asking why white evangelical leaders have been largely silent on the issue. Others, including one former NAACP leader, accused the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson of exploiting the situation.

Some, like Evangelical Covenant Church pastor Efrem Smith, wondered where the outrage is about black-on-black crime. Smith posted a series of tweets noting the lack of attention these victims receive. “A couple of months ago in Oakland multiple young blacks were victims of violent crime by other blacks but Al Sharpton didn’t come to town,” he said. Why not?

‘Justice Doesn’t Alienate Anyone’

Although Zimmerman’s friends continue to defend him and the authors of Florida’s “stand your ground” law defend it, Regent University law professor David Velloney told CBN News that if Zimmerman “was following [Martin] in somewhat of a menacing manner and he violently, or aggressively approached the teenager, then he becomes the initial aggressor in this situation and really then he loses that right to self-defense.”

I’ll give Velloney the last word on the case for now, because amidst all the discussion, debate, and hype, his comment gets to the heart of why this story blew up in the first place. People reacted to a grave, familiar injustice that was aided by an unjust interpretation of what may be an unjust law. Now that the road to justice has finally been cleared for the Martin family, perhaps it’s time we all calm down and take the words of Bishop T.D. Jakes to heart. “Justice doesn’t alienate anyone. It is truth,” Jakes told CBN News. “It is consistent with Scriptures that we investigate, and that we support the defense for all human life.” Amen to that.

Yes We Cain

THE HERMINATOR: Herman Cain takes the stage to address the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington last February. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Newscom)

Herman Cain, an aspiring GOP presidential candidate, appeared out of nowhere. Or did he? Cain, an African-American Atlanta native, rose to prominence in the business world as an executive at the Pillsbury Company and then as CEO of the Godfather’s Pizza chain. He gained notoriety in the political arena by critiquing President Clinton’s healthcare plan in the mid ’90’s and pursuing the U.S. Senate in 2004. He went on to distinguish himself as a motivational speaker and conservative talk-radio host who sometimes calls himself “the Herminator.” But in terms of national name recognition—a critical commodity in politics—Cain essentially appeared out of nowhere.

Dr. Melissa Harris Perry, a noted commentator and professor of political science at Tulane University, approaches Cain’s candidacy as an opportunity to reflect on African-American political conservatism. I intend to do something similar, but I’d also like to highlight the religious inflections of the tradition and suggest one area where conservatives and liberals can collaborate.

Standard storylines of black religion and politics lean leftward, connoting images of the Reverends King, Sharpton, and Jackson. This impression is both false and misleading: false because it obscures the work of other faith-filled public servants like Leah Daughtry, Marian Wright Edelman, and Kay Coles James; misleading because it suggests that black politics and faith are inherently liberal—complete with an interventionist view of the State on economic policy.

Cain’s campaign, by contrast, can be seen as a reminder that black faith and politics often reach rightward. In a recent political speech he listed “Almighty God,” his grandchildren, and a love of country as the motivating factors for his race to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The God, grandchildren, and country motif, of course, is not inherently conservative, but is nonetheless a vision of America that black conservatives invoke more frequently than black liberals. From an academic perspective, Barbara Diane Savage reminds us in Their Spirits Walk Beside Us—and Eddie Glaude more popularly in his “Black Church is Dead” piece—the intersections of black faith and politics are varied. From Jupiter Hammon to the burgeoning black participation in right-to-life movements, any honest read of Christians within African-American religious studies reveals that the “God, grandchildren, and country” motif—or some variation thereof—has always been a part of the diverse tapestry of black faith in public life. For every Rev. Jesse Jackson, there is a Bishop Harry Jackson; for every Suzan Johnson Cook, there is an Alveda C. King.

Many bemoan the manifold manifestations of black faith and politics. We can, however, perceive the brute fact of this diversity as an opportunity for collaboration. For example, conservative pastors and politicians organize to help small businesses flourish, a critical concern that black liberals often overlook. The omission is significant: small businesses employ the majority of Americans, comprise a small but expanding percentage of industry in our urban areas, and thus are a pillar of any viable economic development strategy within America’s regions. Contrastively, liberal black pastors and politicians emphasize our system of social insurance (Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers Compensation) as a promise that the government makes to American families, and—this is the point conservatives often overlook—the precondition for economic mobility in an exceedingly tight labor market.

Rarely, however, do we hear either liberals or conservatives argue explicitly about the importance of the civil sector. And yet, the civil sector, which harbors everything from universities and foundations to civil rights organizations and churches, is uniquely poised to advance an agenda of economic development and mobility.

I’ll conclude with a practical suggestion: Given the shared political emphasis on creating a vibrant and equitable economy, let’s seize the candidacy of Herman Cain as a moment to re-imagine how people of faith, across the political spectrum, might reinvigorate the performance and political presence of the civil sector.