Loving Past Segregation in America’s Churches

Loving Past Segregation in America’s Churches

It’s no secret that Sunday morning is often referred to as the most segregated day of the week, when Christians of all races come together to worship among their ethnic peers. However, do most Christians prefer to fellowship this way, even in the most segregated areas in America?

A few weeks ago, 24/7 Wall Street released a list of the most segregated cities in America. Detroit topped the list, which included locales such as Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis, DC, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Birmingham.

For many churchgoers, segregated congregations in these areas aren’t ideal, but are simply a matter of comfort.

Anisha Howlett, a sales professional who lives in Farmington HiIls (a predominantly white suburb of Detroit), attends The River-New Wine Glory Ministries, a Pentecostal church in Southfield, Michigan. “As of right now, my church is predominantly black; however, our vision is growing and we encourage and welcome people from all walks of life to join our church,” Howlett says.

“We desire having diversity in the church because it reflects the kingdom and culture of heaven. We’ve had speakers from all over the world visit us [from countries] such as India and Italy. We also have a group of Hispanics who began attending our church last year, and we have integrated a sound system for them to listen during services as their interpreter translates to them in Spanish.”

Howlett says that it’s human nature to feel more comfortable around your own race, but notes that it’s not Biblical to confine our religious activity to ethnic groups. She also explains that the Christian church must make an effort to reflect the true body of Christ. She enjoys connecting with people from other races and encourages the greater community to do the same.

“We should want to worship with other Christians who are a different race, Howlett says. “We are spirit beings with a natural body but not bound to our own skin color. To bring heaven on earth, we must begin to integrate races in the church. Worship besides your white friend. Worship besides your black friend. The church won’t be as effective to the world (salt & light) until churches become multi-cultural which resembles the kingdom of God.”

Linda Madison, a media relations strategist in the DMV area prefers multicultural churches that focus on Christian fellowship and true reflection of Christ’s outgoing and boundless love. Her love experiences living on the west and east coasts have allowed her to experience very different communities.

“I live in a predominately African-American community in Prince George’s County, Maryland, yet I work, in a very diverse office,” Madison says. “When I lived in Los Angeles some 20 years ago, I attended Church on the Way, pastored by Jack Hayford who is white and the church was multi-racial.”

Madison is not a fan of racially segregated churches, calling them “not okay.”

“The racial makeup of a church is important to me as long as we are all there for a common goal, which is to serve the Lord,” she says.

Madison believes race shouldn’t matter for Believers who are coming to serve God. “In Jesus’ eyes there were only two factions: Jews and Gentiles. Even so, His charge to us, His people, was to love each other as we love ourselves.”

Ultimately, many Christians follow the example of their leadership when welcoming believers of all races and ethnicities to worship together. However, with today’s influx of digital platforms, it’s easy to find Christians of various races listening to the same sermon on their phone or computers, but sharing a pew makes a more powerful statement of coming together as a Church.

“I think it begins with the Pastors to make sure they’re encouraging diversity in their church,” Howlett suggests. “They must be loving on all walks of life. They must preach against sin such as racism. Preach the unadulterated Word of God — the words of Jesus — and it’ll draw all men to your church.”

Here are a few verses to reflect on concerning unity within the Church:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17: 20-21

 “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” I Corinthians 1: 10

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:25-28

 “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.” Psalms 86:9 KJV

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing!”

“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”

Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem as nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.

While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.

As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.

Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!

Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.

Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013  and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.

Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.

Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.

Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.

Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.

Myth #4: You can pray it away.

Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.

Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”

As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.

 

Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE FAMILIES OF MASS INCARCERATION: PART 2

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE FAMILIES OF MASS INCARCERATION: PART 2

In the second installment of a two-part series, Urban Faith Writer Katelin Hansen gives our readers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the family and friends of those who are incarcerated. Be sure to check out Part 1 of this compelling story, in case you missed it. 

Mental Health in the Prison System

One of the biggest concerns for family members is for the mental health of their loved ones inside. “I feel that the reason my son’s life spiraled like it did was that my nephew was killed right in front of him,” Kim explains. “That was never dealt with. I feel like he had PTSD and then he made a bunch of bad choices. He was a different person.”

PJ remains deeply concerned for her nephew’s mental health. “He’s a cutter, I mean a severe cutter,” PJ says. “It’s nothing for him to get 30-40 stitches for a one of his cuts.”

She worries about him.

“I don’t know if they’re addressing his mental health issues. The first thing is to be prisoner, above everything else,” PJ explains. “And whatever mental health problems you have are compounded by the trauma of being in prison.”

In many ways, Kim’s son has grown up in the system. “Mental health is a piece that really needs to be considered,” she insists. “Until they address that inside, or as part of re-entry, I don’t think we’ll be effective in preventing them from going back.”

A Broken System

Navigating the multifaceted labyrinth that is the prison system can be exhausting.

Cheryl’s experience is that it is “very tedious and time-consuming and hard on your emotions, your heart,” Cheryl explains. “It just seems like the system just drags.”

She’s been trying to get answers for months now, and has been given no indication of how long the pre-trial phase is going to last.

Inmates do serve time during their pre-trial period, so if they are convicted, they may be able to reduce the total time that they’re on the inside. But, if they’re found not guilty, they’ve lost potentially months of their lives.

“I just wish it didn’t take so long,” Cheryl says. “It just takes a lot out of you, both the person being incarcerated, but also for family and friends. It becomes very hard because you don’t want to see your loved ones there.”

PJ feels like the whole system is set up for failure. “You take people who are poor, and when they work you pay them minimum wage,” she says. “There’s a way to make a whole lot more, but with the risk of being locked up. But a lot of times the desperation of being poor is greater than the fear of being locked up.”

PJ says she was afraid to do anything that would land her behind bars. “I’d hear about the interacting with other people inside and how scary that was,” she says. When asked if that meant prison served as a successful deterrent, she replied “It might be, but only if 1 out of 6 siblings is what we consider success.”

Life After Release

Having a criminal record means losing access to many of the support structures that are necessary to getting back on one’s feet after incarceration. After release, ex-offenders face severe discrimination in finding jobs or applying to schools.

They often cannot qualify for food stamps or public housing. And family members risk losing their benefits if they are found to be housing felons.

PJ notes that “if you make it so hard for them when they come home, maybe they don’t have the fight in them to make it through without going back to what they know.” She receives messages every day from people asking which companies are willing to hire felons.

“Maybe if they were given an opportunity to know what it feels like to have paid their debt and then be free of the judgment, there wouldn’t be such a high recidivism rate,” PJ says.

Kim’s son has been in for 12 years and he’s about to get out. “Were excited about him coming home,” she says. “But, I’m still concerned about his mental health. It’s taken its toll.”

And, she knows it could get harder.

“Now there are all the barriers around being a felon.” Friends have recommended programs and pathways, but there is no central place to even see what is available, or to compare programs’ success rates. “We’re excited about him coming home,” she reiterates, “but is has been a heart breaking experience for our family.”

Church as a Resource

Scripture tells us that we are to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3). Sometimes the church struggles with even this much, but what about the families on the outside as well?

When Molly spent some time in jail a couple years back, her church was there for her. “They gave support, cards, love, books. It affected people at church because no one wants to see their friend in jail,” Molly explains.

As she’s gotten more involved in the life of her church community, she’s become more diligent about completing her required reporting to the authorities. She doesn’t want to get locked up again.

“Besides myself, it affects other people,” Molly says. “If all of the sudden you’re gone for 30 days, there’s a gap to fill in your role at the church. I’m not here by myself.”

As was the case for Molly, churches have tremendous potential to walk alongside both the incarcerated and their families. When churches form meaningful and authentic relationships with their communities, many of these caring partnerships happen naturally, offering spiritual and emotional support during difficult times of forced separation.

More formal ministries, like support groups and resource centers, can also be put into place. For example, there are organizations like Healing Communities, a nationwide, faith-based organization that is “building relationships of healing, redemption and reconciliation in families and communities impacted by crime and mass incarceration.” Then, there are other organizations, like Casa De Paz, that support families specifically affected by immigration detention.

Kim says discovering ministry resources for she and her family has been a learning experience. “I feel like some blanks have been filled in about how incarceration affects the whole family,” she explains.

Encourage your church to learn more and to discover what local agencies are assisting with family visitation or providing support services for children with incarcerated parents in your own community.

Read the first part of this two-part series here.

 

 

CAN YOU LOVE AUTHENTICALLY IF YOU WERE RAISED TO BE TOXIC?

CAN YOU LOVE AUTHENTICALLY IF YOU WERE RAISED TO BE TOXIC?

It’s not easy to be hated by the person who is supposed to love you most, and unfortunately, being toxic has become normalized in our culture.

Many see misdirected aggravation, gaslighting, physical abuse, and more as “love tactics.” When a child only knows pain as a source of love, then they too love in that way and any other form of healthy love seems abnormal.

However, the question is, can a person ever love authentically if they were raised to be toxic?

The assumption is no. When someone is exposed to consistent, toxic stress, they are vulnerable to mental and physical illness that can sometimes develop into a genetic trait, according to Hey Sigmund; therefore this behavior is biologically passed on through generations.

However, despite the science behind the effects of toxic love, there is always hope for a better life.

Fighting for Love

“I just felt like I wasn’t loved by my mom, says Monique, a woman in her 40s who was often told she wasn’t good enough. “I felt growing up in my mom’s house I wasn’t allowed to be me, an individual.”

To suit her mother’s perfect image of a family, Monique, was to participate in certain activities without any consideration of her talents or desires. While at the same time, her brother was given free reign to participate in activities of his choice throughout their childhood.

And to make matters worse, Monique’s father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would often abuse her. She recalls him touching her to satisfy his physical desires and severely beating her when she reported it to her incredulous mother.

Fortunately, Monique found refuge in her grandmother’s home, where she found the kind of love her mother envied. Monique remembers her mother punishing and verbally abusing her as a result of the love she received from her grandmother.

Like many girls, Monique found herself looking for love in empty relationships during her teen years that lead to a forced, terminated pregnancy and physical and emotional abuse similar to the treatment she received from her own father.

Eventually, Monique met a gentle and caring man named Laz. However, Laz’s compassion and gentleness were unfamiliar to her, which ultimately lead to Monique returning to one of her previous, toxic relationships.

She went on to marry a former flame named Xavier and stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years.

Towards the end of my [3rd] pregnancy, I found out he was cheating and when I confronted him, he hit me,” says Monique who recalls her toxic relationship that mirrored her childhood. “He asked, ‘Who are you to question me?’…It felt like because of the way I grew up, if I wasn’t getting hit, then it wasn’t love,”

After her divorce, Monique fought against her toxic past. She made the decision to rise above her father’s mental illness, her mother’s jealousy and apathy, and their collective effort to make her their emotional punching bag for their marriage troubles.

Although the struggle did not end after her marriage when it came to love, her children, and health, she remains hopeful enough to fight for the love she deserves. She charges her will to carry on to God, because without Him, she would have taken the final blow to end her suffering.

Turning Off the Gaslight

Bella was born to a Catholic family that rejected her mother for having a baby with a man that she later learned was married. The rejection caused her mother to make multiple attempts to prove her worth to the family by making Bella seem exceptional, but in private her mother was spiteful and unloving as the list of accomplishments grew.

“[My mother] did everything for me to prove herself, but not for the love of me,” Bella explains. “She worked hard to put me through private school and extracurricular activities, but at home I was repeatedly told I was nothing; sometimes she even called me a waste of a human being. To this day, she has never told me she loves me.”

Whenever something would go wrong in Bella’s life, she would automatically blame herself as a result of her relationship with her mother. Even when her husband and father of their two children committed adultery, she took the blame.

As time went on, Bella lost the love of her life, her job, and believed that she would never be loved which drove her into a suicidal state .

Until one day, Bella decided that she had enough and began to fight for her life, beauty, and self-love through therapy. “Once I figured out that I wasn’t this awful, unlovable monster that I was made to believe as a reality by someone who was unloved, it turned my world upside down in a great way,” Bella says. “It never would have happened without me doing the work in therapy.”

As a result of her treatment, Bella was led to a love that she has been enveloped in for the last four years. Even though the pain of rejection transcended through two generations, love won in the end.

“In the middle of all of this, I met a man who just rained love on me,” Bella joyfully exclaims.

Is there hope after a toxic upbringing?

“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of [your abuser], which I also hate” (Revelations 2:6, NIV).

In the beginning of this article, the question was, can a person love authentically if they were raised to be toxic? The answer is yes, but you must fight for it.

It is easy to nurse the scars of someone that you love, because love is to be unconditional, right? But what good is unconditional love when a person’s pain has replaced the spirit that you desperately want to love?

That is spiritual warfare and it is best to back away and allow God to handle it if they are unwilling to get help. It is important to recognize the signs of someone who has been abused and trying to regain power, which can include verbally sharing memories of their toxic loved ones.

Fortunately, Bella and Monique worked past those painful memories found a way to defeat them so that the tradition of toxicity ended with them and a reign of love could begin.

What healing advice do you have for someone who grew up in a toxic environment? Share your thoughts below.

HOW WE CAN WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN IN Washington D.C. & BEYOND?

HOW WE CAN WE PROTECT OUR CHILDREN IN Washington D.C. & BEYOND?

Imagine a time when members of the Black community looked out for one another. Neighbors were more like family, children were safe, and troubling news such as 26 open missing persons cases were incredibly rare.

There is an unrelenting rage boiling in our community due to the lack of coverage or collaborative effort to find the missing Black and Latina girls in Washington D.C. However, we can point fingers, or even yell at the police, city officials and federal government, but what are we doing to protect our own children?

While there has been coverage from major news outlets and support from organizations such as BET and The Women’s March on Washington Organization, some would argue that the issue is larger than one may think.

There have been many cases of missing children who are White that have received major state and national coverage, along with extensive, coordinated searches, but when 14 Black girls go missing, it is a different story.

The issue is not that there is no coverage. It is that this issue became important when it became a hashtag. It should have never gotten this far.

What can we really ask of our civil servants?

There are mixed messages on the severity of this situation. Some outlets say there are 14 girls missing, while others are implying that the girls aren’t really in danger and are labeling them “runaways.”

While that assumption is not stressed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser or other public officials, there is still a permeating, public message that lessens the concern of onlookers across the nation.

Since gaining national attention, the news of our missing girls has produced town halls filled with tears and frustration. However we are still left to wonder, “What else can be done?”

New York resident Aura Severino is one of many Americans following this story.

“Law enforcement needs to understand why they are [being] taken,” Aura says. “Are they victims of opportunity or targeted? These are questions that need to be asked to figure out what is being done with these girls. Once that is understood, moves can be made to prevent more girls from being taken and rescuing those who are already gone.”

Aura, a program manager in New York City, also feels that the family unit plays a huge role in making a difference. “Families need to educate their girls and boys about what is currently happening to encourage vigilant awareness,” she says.

Although local and state city officials are making strides to find the missing girls, one can’t help but notice that there is a lack of coverage on the fact that there are missing boys too. What is to be done when our boys, our future leaders who are raised to protect our communities and families, are also missing?

Atlanta resident Mario Jackson believes it all comes down to training and resources.

“There needs to be more neighborhood surveillance and trainings in kidnapping for D.C. Police,” Mario says. “I also believe in the old-school practice of neighborhood watches and communal security.”

Fortunately, it is being reported that Mayor Bowser is unrelenting in her efforts to address the number of missing person cases in D.C. However, some believe that addressing the issue starts right here in our own communities.

COMM’UNITY’

‘Unity’ plays a major role in “community,” and its members have a responsibility to be a part of it.

While Mayor Bowser attempts to reel in the community through her task force and other efforts, none of it matters without the support and action of the community. The task force will follow a procedure as deemed appropriate by the city, but how will the community light the beacon of hope?

Although New York-D.C. Native Aisha Jones commends the city’s efforts to make a difference, she charges us, the community, to do our part.

“We are so quick to save on the money and energy we put into our kids that we don’t worry about safety,” Aisha says. “Most of these girls are being abducted on the way home. Their parents are not picking them up from school or encouraging a buddy system or teaching them how to fight back.”

Like Mario, Aisha agrees that the proper resources are critical in resolving these issues.

“There should be self-defense classes for both boys and girls,” she says. “Also there is a responsibility to speak up if you see something. ‘Snitches get stitches’ does not apply when you see someone in danger.”

 

Take a look at BET’s compelling video on the recent news coverage below:

 

Weigh in below on how you and others can work to rebuild the community and protect our children.