Sunday, September 10, 2017

Where is God in this?

Where is God in this?
It’s the question I pondered when I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m., trembling because Irma is on the way. The massive hurricane that has already killed 23 people in the Caribbean is approaching Key West with gush winds up to 82 mph. Prayers to limit the devastation will be lifted in churches as the damaging winds and heavy rain moves through Florida.
Where is God in this?
What sermons will be preached as the eleven o’clock hour begins worship in most churches? Will there be mention of what tomorrow represents – 911 – the day the twin towers came tumbling down in the name of American tyranny?
Will preachers blame the trinity of storms – Harvey, Irma and Jose – on God, or will more emphasis be placed on the love and compassion of Jesus as we pray for the storms to go away. Will Irma be used to promote a political agenda, or will Americans come together, again, to demonstrate we have more in common than we think?
Natural disasters have a way of presenting the fallacies of our theological views. We like to keep God in a nicely packed box of conceptions constructed to make us feel better. Faith becomes a roadmap to all things desired, and human struggles are used to illustrate the consequence of disobedience. Church talk, liturgy and theology help undergird the message of American privilege.
Isn’t this the American dream? Blessed are those who abide in God’s will. They will succeed. They shall be protected by God. God removes from their lives the pain of destruction. As for the disobedient, their lives will be damaged by a series of lessons aimed to stir their path. They shall witness death and pain due to their evil ways.
This is the message of American privilege. God rewards America for faithful witness.  America totes the flag of freedom for the world to view. America leads the way. This is the bond between American nationalism and a theology girded by the American dream. Americans believe they are more honorable than the rest of the world. We embrace the American witness of faith and privilege for the world to see.
But, where is God in the storm?
Did God do this to teach America a lesson? Some will preach that this morning. This is the discipline of God. This is God’s judgment for electing Donald Trump. This is those chickens coming home to roost. They will preach this is the zeal of God. This is a call for national humility after years of institutionalized hypocrisy.
I’m reminded of the lessons of Thomas Langford, my former professor of Christian Theology at Duke University. He told me to not craft a theology that made God into Atlas, the titan in Greek Mythology responsible for bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders.  He challenged me to structure theology that considers the balance between creation and chaos while offering space for freedom.
This is the challenge of ministry. It’s work that celebrates the beauty and grace of God’s good creation, while conceding the ongoing movement of chaos. This is the balance that defies the simplistic messages of faith. No, not everything is God’s will. All death is not ordered by God to teach a lesson. Some people die for reasons other than disobedience. They simply find themselves caught in the midst of the force of chaos.
It is not God’s will when a child dies by shots fired from a speeding car. Where is the grace in uttering the 23, mostly black and brown people, dead due to hurricane Irma is God’s lesson regarding American sin? Why would they die for what Americans do wrong?
Where is God in the storm?
The honest answer is I don’t know. Maybe there is no answer to the question. Maybe it’s not the time to ask.
I do know where God is within the devastation. It’s the place where God has always been. God remains there to teach lessons about faith, love, compassion and peace. God is with us in the damage to remind us we are not alone.
“God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law,” Jurgen Moltmann, said in his book The Crucified God. “God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.”
I may not know where God is in the storm, but I do know where God is when the storm appears. God is with us, enduring the madness of the storm, to remind us we are not alone.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Durham's race for mayor reflects the end of what black people say they want to achieve

What happened to the days of black solidarity? Some will say it never existed. It’s no more than a false narrative about the good ole days when all black folks held hands, sang songs, marched together and fought to overcome racism.
A true reading of history reminds us that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t embraced by the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. In fact, the opposition at the 1961 annual convention in Kansas City, Mo was so intense a fist fight broke out, an elderly man died and King, Ralph Abernathy and Gardner C. Taylor withdrew from the group to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
There has never been a congruous black voice. Not everyone stood behind Marcus Garvey when he challenged black people to love themselves, to develop a black economic infrastructure and to return to Africa.  Not everyone shouted “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” or replaced the attire of white corporate America with African apparel. Not everyone embraced their natural hair, sat during the national anthem while marching in defiance.
There is no monolithic black voice. That has never been the case.
But, black people talk a lot about unity. Its part of the declaration made during the celebration of Kwanzaa. Umoja (unity) is the first principal of the week. Black people light the first red candle placed in the kinara while conjuring the promise to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kwanza is the seven day celebration of black people overcoming. It’s a week set aside to teach lessons about unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity and faith.  The seven principles (Nguzo Saba) reflect the best qualities of the “first fruit” festivals celebrated throughout Africa.
It’s a reminder of where black people come from. It’s a call for unity and an embrace of the fruits that emerge when black people refuse to be measured by a Eurocentric agenda. Black people living in America applaud life in their country, but they find strength in their collective journey. That’s where the pride flows and that is the place that brews massive change.
So, back to the initial question - what happened to the days of black solidarity? Or, what happened to the promise regarding what solidarity would stimulate?
Durham, NC is a city built on the back of black pride and solidarity. It was unity that inspired the rise of the Black Wall Street. Unity, combined with a bunch of collective work and responsibility, fueled the imagination of James Edward Shepard to build the National Religious Training School at Chautauqua in 1909. We now know it as North Carolina Central University, the first public liberal arts institution for blacks in the nation.
What happened to the unity that inspired growth for our children? Have blacks become so engulfed in their individual quest in living the American dream that they have forgotten the principles that helped them overcome?
Why are blacks in Durham engaged in massive cannibalism while placing personal agendas above our collective needs? Why can’t black people talk, plan, mobilize and succeed together? Where is that black faith that grounds the black community and keeps them moving?
Why are five black people running for mayor against one white person? I get people being called to public office. I understand being compelled to press what the spirit has inspired from that place beyond human understanding. No one should be denied that right, but where is the unity that moves black people forward –together as a people?
How did this happen?
When did the endorsement of a predominately white political action committee become more important than the collective agenda of the black community? When did the platform of white people, albeit progressives, overrule the veracity of what black people aspire to be – a community in search for unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, collective economics, purpose, creativity while being moved by a common faith?
When did the hope for unity end?

I suppose it’s what happens when we assume we’ve made it to the Promised Land.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Rev-elution endorses candidates for mayor and city council.

It’s endorsement time! It’s endorsement time!

I know, it’s probably true no one really cares about what I think. This is the work left for Political Action Committees like the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, People’s Alliance and the Friends of Durham to figure out. The newspapers often chime in, with Indy Week mostly embracing whatever the People’s Alliance decides and the Herald-Sun doing their best to make a decision among those left after the great shakedown. That would be Mark Schultz, Cliff Bellamy and Greg Childress.

They all do a great job of picking among the candidates. This year has been more difficult due to the number of highly qualified and gifted people running for office. No matter what happens, Durham gonna be alright. You catch that? I got Kendrick Lamar on my mind today.

So, here I go. I couple of thoughts before I start.

Unlike some of the other endorsement list, I thought long and hard regarding how each person, if selected, impacts the chemistry of the city council. As much as credentials and public policy views impact the management of city government, and it does, Durham has learned tough lessons from the past regarding what happens when you place a Muhammad Ali personality in the ring with Joe Frazier.

Forgive my boxing reference. I’m still processing the beat down McGregor received from Mayweather. Just like that fight, the wrong group of people on the council will create a stir that mirrors the rope a dope followed by a shoulder roll. I based my decisions on gut stuff that church folk call the Holy Spirit. In many cases I may be wrong, but dang it, it’s my freaking list.

Drum roll please.

Mayor of the cool city

This one was hard to call.  I came close to simply rolling the dice to see what the end would be, but then the clouds opened to reveal the sun. Not really, but that’s what we preachers do. It’s important to paint a picture.

Thus, this came down to things beyond those credentials. I’ll begin with who I left out among the final two and why.

I like Pierce Freelon. I love his energy and passion. What I didn’t like was his sales pitch. It went something like this – vote for me because the average age in Durham is 33. We need representation on the council that reflects the views of Millennials. We rule the world. Step back old folks.

Okay, it’s gentler than that, but Freelon’s pitch made me feel like the old horse sent out to the pasture after losing too many races. My study of African religion has taught me to honor the views of the elders. They bring insight and wisdom nurtured through the years. Getting old isn’t a curse. It’s to be honored and respected for helping us look back and learn lessons while keeping both eyes on the prize.

I didn’t like being told to step aside. With that said, there is something about Freelon’s energy that helped me see beyond this election. I simply believe Durham’s political structure would limit Freelaon. I want to see him serve beyond the restrictions of local government. His voice and leadership seems to be bigger than Durham. Not sure where that is, but I hope we will experience what that means.

I endorse Farad Ali as Mayor.

Why -because he’s too good not to participate in our government. I hear you. I hear you. What does that make Steve Schewel – chicken feed? Oh no. I selected Ali because Schewel will remain on the council if defeated. My desire for both candidates led me to go with the one who won’t serve if defeated.

There’s a second part to this decision. I’m not willing to trust the newly elected city council with the selection of Schewel’s replacement.  This came to me after reading threads regarding the time it took for People’s Alliance to complete their endorsement process. I hear it was long and grueling. I’m not prepared for the heat in the room if the city council is forced to make that decision.
Call me a wimp, but, in my mind, it’s the best of all worlds. It can be argued that Schewel deserves being elevated to mayor after years of faithful service. I dig it. I really get that, but what a team.

Every time I fly in and out of RDU I see Ali’s smiling mug on the walls. He’s there glaring at people entering our region like a super hero positioned to protect us from the forces of evil. Okay, I’m doing that preacher thing again, but you get the point. Ali has established regional juice. Some progressives may not like what that means, but he brings credibility to the city in ways that continues the work of Mayor Bill Bell.

Again, those progressive hate that. There’s nothing like a series of private/public partnership to irk the souls of those baptized in white privilege. Make it go away! I get that, but it’s why I love the balance between the two.

What I love most about Schewel is his vision for affordable housing. It’s insightful. It’s creative. It’s a work of genius. Yeah, those are big words that puff Schewel up like the magic dragon. He has the plan that can work, and if not for what we would forfeit without Ali, he is my dude.

I’m sure you have questions. See me after class.

Let’s move on to Ward 1

This is the classic old school, new school battle. In this corner, we have Cora Cole McFadden. She’s from Durham and a graduate of NCCU. She has served in city government and has served as Durham’s Mayor Pro Tem. In this corner, we have DeDrena Freeman. She’s an up and coming superstar having served on the Durham Planning Commission. She has served as a member of the North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Board. Sure you right.

This is a case of finding what makes me feel good. Like Halle Berry in “Monster Ball”, there are times when you have to go with what feels like chemistry. For me, it’s about muscle memory. What feels good is a person on the council who remembers what Durham looked like before the hipsters showed up with enough cash to elevate the cost of downtown housing. By memory I mean more than life in the city before Bill Bell and the years after urban removal.

Youth on the council is important, but, given the radical changes we face, we need a person on the council who can talk about how we got here, the mistake we made and what needs to be done to overcome the damage.

Call me old school. I endorse Cora Cole-McFadden

Then came Ward 2

This is the toughest decision to make. Can we pick all of them? Why not? Okay, I have to decide.

I endorse Mark Anthony Middleton for reasons beyond where he went to divinity school  (Duke pride) or the fact that he’s my brother in ministry (preach Middleton). This is about the substance and spirit of his work. This is about working with the masses during a time when people are downright nasty related to how they talk about and engage with men and women of the cloth.

It takes more than a Bible and a bunch of charisma to do the work of ministry. No other profession comes close to mimicking what it means to be a politician. If you don’t believe me spend some time at a church business meeting. Help me Jesus.

But, more than Middleton’s calling and practice of faith, this is about the hard work he’s doing in promoting justice, peace and understanding. That’s hard work given how new jack revolutionaries view grassroots mobilization. That’s a chat for a later day, but let me clearly state they can’t handle the truth.

Among the others, John Rooks is doing the darn thing. He is giving his time and money in support of residents in McDougald Terrace. His heart is in the right place. He deserves this, but it’s his work with law enforcement that shifted the scale in the direction of Middleton.

He organized monthly meetings, along with Delbert “Deej Kraze” Jarmon, to advance communication with local police. I attended the meetings early on, but felt they became more of a public relations campaign for the police department than an authentic space to discuss legitimate concerns with law enforcement. I began to sense sentiments that negate the voice of the Black Lives Matter movement. You know what that means. I ain’t got no time for that.

I see promise in Levon Barnes. I told him a setback is a setup for a comeback. Well, not in those words, but expect him to return with the fury of a resurrection.

Ward 3 was surprisingly easy for me

It came down to the battle of the legal minds. I respect the work of Don Moffitt; but the black women running this time pushed him to the side like grandmamma used to do when she gave me the hand.

Vernetta Alston is impressive. What disturbs me about Alston is that catch phrase – progressive. In Durham, it’s used like a weapon. It often implies a white agenda that negates the significance of black progressive ideology. Put another way, white people in Durham think they out-progressive black progressive. It’s a point that drives me over the edge.

When I hear Alston say progressive I think of views that reflect a labeling of progressive that needs to be balanced by black progressive views. When white progressive is construed as right progressive, black progressive views take a black seat in defining movements that move poor black people in the direction of progress.

It’s the reason I failed to endorse Moffitt. In many ways, Alston is Moffitt in black, queer embodiment. That’s a good thing, but, for me, it gets at the core issue of chemistry that advances causes beyond the People’s Alliances assumptions regarding a progressive agenda.


Shelia Huggins brings the balance that makes me feel good. Like Alston, she’s an attorney who has jumped into the fray of doing public service. She has the right stuff needed to process through all side of arguments placed on the table. She’s is engaged enough not to become the puppet candidate of a particular PAC. I see her as a mediator willing to do the right thing, not because of pre-assigned labels of what it means to be a Durham progressive, but because of the data placed before her by staff and the conversations coming from all sides of the position.

I did it!

I see this as a celebration of the great work done by past council members. Schewel and McFadden are the link to the past. Middleton and Huggins are the future of Durham.

With that said, thanks to all who ran. All of you rock. Some I didn’t mention here, but I got love for all of you.

Well, all but Sylvester Williams. I can’t give a shout out to a minister who opposes gay rights. Not on my watch.

To the rest of you, nothing but love for you and what you do for my city.


BULL CITY!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Selecting a mayor in Durham: The political kiss

Deciding among the candidates for Durham’s next Mayor is a tough task.

It reminds me of the time, long ago, when I found myself trapped in making a decision regarding who to date among sisters. Both were cute. Both had a crush on me, and both kissed me near the big oak tree in my parent’s front yard.

I was only 13.

Decisions, decisions. What do you do when you like most of the candidates?

To begin, I consider Farad Ali a friend. He’s the type of guy who easily fits within my inner circle. Yeah, we could drink a beer together, talk mess, and go to a basketball game (unless it’s UNC versus Duke. He did play for the Tar Heels and I have my Duke credentials) and double date at the Beyu. Yup, Ali is my Negro.

I’ve got mad respect for Pierce Freelon. I’ve been following his music and career ever since he performed at The CenterFest Arts Festival just before Dirty Sol, a group I was helping to promote. I didn’t care much for him performing with his shirt off, but that’s a case of undo shade. 

When I see Pierce, I think about King, my son. It’s difficult not supporting a young, black man with all that talent, passion and vision. Did I mention I love his parents?

I used to write for the Indy Week, the publication Steve Schewel founded in 1983. As a journalist, it’s hard not to back a man who introduced a progressive approach to local news. It doesn’t hurt that I witnessed Steve maneuver tense racial hostility when he was a member of the Durham Public School Board. That was back when protesters were sent to jail in the presence of children during meetings and Durham was called the “black sheep” of North Carolina.

There are others running. Traci Drinker, retired member of the Durham Police Department, is the type of friend I’d tell my deepest secrets. In fact, I think I have. Sylvester Williams, who returns after numerous rejections by voters, is a minister on record for opposing members of the LGBTIA community. He gets no love from me.

I don’t know Michael Johnson. I hear he’s a nice guy. I purchased shoes from Shea Ramirez former store near Guess Road. Now she does taxes and helps young people enter the modeling industry. Got to say that’s impressive work.

This is a lineup of friends and a few I do not know. Like those sisters who kissed me, it’s tough selecting when most candidates possess political cuteness.

So, what will it take to get my vote?

This election is about the future. Like a relay race, Mayor Bill Bell is passing the baton after generating massive economic growth. The downtown economic boom, combined with changes a few blocks away on Ninth Street, has drawn new residents with deep pockets and a desire to live near downtown.

The growth has come with consequences. Companies like State Employee’s Credit Union have caged the product, a term used to describe the control of supply and demand, in North East Central Durham, Old North Durham and the Watts-Hillandale community. People crave a home within walking distance of the buzz downtown.

I’m looking for a mayor who can facilitate a conversation related to offsetting massive housing cost. I’ve heard rhetoric, but no plan. I desire an analysis regarding what happened that ponders both benefits and shortcomings. I’m insensitive to the anti-business sentiment of groups who blame private/public partnerships. I don’t want to hear the city is screwed up because of the work of Bill Bell.

I hear talk about increased disparity proven by the construction of that monster building downtown with condos selling for more than $1 million. I’m fed up with attacks that fail to acknowledge the creation of jobs, more taxes to the city and county, more places to eat, hotels and shops with more options that impact tourism.

The growth comes with loads of bad news, but there is good stuff in the shadow of all those buildings. There are more locally owned businesses and places that attract people to Durham for more than a basketball game at the Cameron Indoor Stadium.

I don’t need to hear Durham is worse than before. After living downtown for more than 10 years, I can tell you that isn't true. Durham is more vibrant with places to hear live music. People can select from a bevy of multiple star restaurants with crime not being considered when you park your car at night.

Now that we’re here, who can lead this discussion? Who understands life on both sides of the tracks – the world of business incentives and economic development, juxtaposed against the world of Lord, help me pay these damn bills.

Who, among these wonderful candidates, is capable of navigating conflicting political agendas? Will Durham shift into anti-business mode before black business owners obtain an equitable piece of the pie? Will there be adequate conversations regarding the people being pushed out of their communities due to a plan to cage the market?

Who will I pick among these politically cute candidates?

At the end of the day, it’s not how cute one looks. It’s substance that matters the most.


Thank God I don’t have to kiss them.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

It's time to mute Jason Whitlock's comments about racism

I need an automatic mute button to silence Jason Whitlock

Whitlock, a talking head for Fox Sports, has found a niche in offering a perspective that nurtures post-racism rhetoric.

In July 2016, Whitlock attacked members of Black Lives Matter.

“As an African-American, again, I’ve had problems with the police, and my family lost someone we loved dearly to excessive police force. But, the conversation about police brutality is a lie and dishonest,” Whitlock said, “ You’re more likely as African-Americans to be damn near struck by lightning than to be killed by the police, and no one can have that conversation. And we’re killing ourselves in our own communities, and no one can have that conversation.”

Shaun King, columnist for the New York Daily News, was confronted by Whitlock for an expose on the handling of a sexual harassment allegation against Peyton Manning when he was a student at the University of Tennessee.

“First of all, he’s white and presenting himself as black. He said that as a child in high school he was allegedly attacked by a group of white people because he was black,” Whitlock said about King. “Well, he wasn’t black and there were people saying that wasn’t why he was attacked and there’s no proof of it.”

King responded on Twitter with accusing Whitlock of “cooning” for money and calling him a “Tom ass bastard.”

Truth is, @WhitlockJason has mainly kept a job because he’s the guy white folk use to throw Black leaders under the bus. Steppin fetchin.

— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) February 17, 2016

@WhitlockJason the most relevant you’ve been in YEARS is when you are selling me or @deray or Beyonce out this week. Tom ass bastard.

— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) February 17, 2016

White media has ALWAYS made room for a tom or two who will go on TV or radio and call Black leaders racists. Now they call us “race-baiters”

— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) February 17, 2016

King made an extra hole for Whitlock’s digestive system.

Last month, Charlamagne  tha God, co-host of the nationally-syndicated radio show "The Breakfast Club", named Whitlock “donkey of the day” for defending Kristine Leahay when she attacked LaVar Ball.
Jason Whitlock name "Donkey of the Week"
So, this is old news.
Whitlock is “that guy”. He’s the black guy sanctioned to say what white people want to hear. He’s the black kid embraced for “not being like other black people”. He called Colin Kaepernick “Martin Lither King conrow” and said LeBron James won the genetic lottery.

He’s the black guy that black folks refuse to call black.

Recently, Whitlock came after LeBron again during an appearance on “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd . He was there to discuss comments James made regarding a person spray-paining “Nigger” on the gates of his Los Angeles home.

“I think it is a disrespectful inconvenience for LeBron James," Whitlock said. "He allegedly had the n-word spray-painted on his $20 million Brentwood home. He wasn't there. His family wasn't there. He heard about it."

"Racism is an issue in America but is primarily an issue for the poor. It's not LeBron James' issue," Whitlock said. "He has removed himself from the damages and the ravages of real racism. He may have an occasional disrespectful interaction with someone, a disrespectful inconvenience."

There’s more.

"LeBron needs to quit embracing his victimhood because he's not a victim and it's a terrible message for black people," Whitlock said.

“I used to be a black kid and [people would say racist slurs to me]. It wasn’t that big of a deal. If someone denies you an opportunity — you can’t go to school here, you can’t have this, you can’t have that — that is the impact of racism. LeBron was inconvenienced. Racism affects the poor. For him to sit there and say, ‘No matter where you are, it’s tough being black in America’? It ain’t tough being LeBron James. It ain’t tough being Oprah Winfrey.”

Whitlock argues racism can’t be experienced if you’re wealthy; therefore, people like James should avoid all conversations involving race.

Whitlock is evoking language that demands silence among those with economic privilege.  In his opinion, the only people qualified to speak about racism are people wounded by economic restriction. Black people of privilege have achieved at a level that helps them transcend the burden of racism.

This is the type of code language used by conservative white people to dismiss assumptions of privilege and race. If racism is merely a construction of economic disparity, then overcoming the implications of racism becomes the responsibility of the poor. Those who continue to be maligned by racism are suffering due to an inability to pull themselves up from those bootstraps, while black people like LeBron need to avoid language that foster victimhood.

If one of the benefits of success is the avoidance of racism, we live in a society with the assumption that some people matter more than others. Whitlock argues on behalf of social arrangements that reflect an expanding value gap among black people.

Rich black people don’t suffer from racism. Some black people are worth more than others to the extent that they overcome the burden of racism. James suffers the inconvenience of paying someone to remove “nigger” from the gate, but it’s not racism. It’s only racism when it involves a person who is poor.

Whitlock’s views avoid a long history in which black people are denied access due to racism. There are numerous lessons regarding black people of middle and upper class status who were denied access due to their race.

It happened in 2013 when Oprah was denied entry into Hermes, a Swiss luxury goods store in Paris. It happened in 1999 when Danny Glover filed a formal complaint against the Taxi and Limousine Commission for discriminating against African-American passengers like him, who were routinely bypassed by cab drivers.

Rose, the mother of Chris Rock accused a Cracker Barrel restaurant in South Carolina of discriminating against her in 2006. She alleges the staff went out of its way to delay service.  Henry “Skip” Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, was stopped for walking into his own house.

When Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general, and President Barack Obama discussed being racially profiled, they conceded the emotions related to being inconvenienced. Whitlock is correct in highlighting the aggravation related to paying someone to wash that word from the gate. It’s true that LeBron has the money to get the job done. It’s one of the privileges associated with making all that cash.

Being rich is no protection from the emotions stirred by racist acts. It’s troubling to negate the impact of racist acts based on what is perceived as no more than an inconvenience for those with the money to make it go away.

Whitlock is that dude.

He doesn’t get it.

I recommend he read Ellis Cose’s book “The Rage of the Privileged Class.” There are numerous stories about black people with loads of money who are mad.
Pressing that mute button

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Declining admissions at the University of Missouri reflects the state's ongoing struggles with conversations involving race.

(Photo: Students at the University of Missouri placed post its on a statue of Thomas Jefferson to protest the hypocrisy of his role in establishing the university as the first public institution of higher education west of the Mississippi River in 1839)

There will be a lot of empty seats this fall at the University of Missouri at Columbia. It’s hard to imagine my alma mater returning to what it was before the protest of 2015.

In my mind, that wouldn’t be a good thing.

Officials, at the state’s flagship school, report only 4,009 first-time freshman deposits for the upcoming academic year, a 35 percent decline from the 2015 class of 6,191 students. The student population is shrinking at a rate that has forced the closure of seven resident halls and the elimination of 400 positions.

There’s a lot of blame to go around.  Fewer students are graduating from high schools in Missouri while the University of Illinois aggressively recruits students born in Missouri. Missouri didn’t have a plan. Administrators took growth for granted. 

Blah, blah, blah.

Sure, there are other reasons, but most people blame the reduction in student enrollment on protests led by members of Concerned Student 1950 (a group of black students who called for the ouster of the University of Missouri System President), a hunger strike and a boycott by members of the football team.

If you live in Missouri, and read comments on editorial pages in local newspapers, you will sense the bitterness among residents. As a former columnist for the Columbia Missourian, the daily newspaper run by the school of journalism at the University of Missouri, and adjunct instructor at the school of journalism, I learned to avoid those comments.

They were brutal. Readers blasted me for promoting a racist agenda and participating in the demise of the university. None of that is new. It comes with being a column writer.

What is useful ,related to what is happening at the University of Missouri, is how the politics involving race impacted the ability of those on campus to improve race relations. It was the meddling of members of the Board of Curators, combined with threats from alumni and members of the state General Assembly that complicated efforts to move forward.

Most of it is fueled by perceptions involving race among those who live in Missouri.

In Missouri, the University of Missouri at Columbia is distinguished from other state schools due to its international influence. Its top rated school of journalism draws students from around the world. It’s a research institution that generates interest from students in medicine, the sciences and a bevy of liberal arts programs.

The students who attend the University of Missouri are unlike the people who live in other parts of the state. Missouri is vastly rural with large populations of blacks in St. Louis and Kansas City. Columbia is a city with a small black population suffering from substantial economic disparity.

Black students who attend the University of Missouri come from communities more engaged in addressing implications involving the history of race and racism. Those students are faced with the reality of the university’s inability to confront the lack of diversity, inclusion and equity. Student protest exposed what has always been there.

The response of those outside the university made it difficult to build relationships aimed at repairing division on campus.

While members of the faculty, administrators and students promoted listening sessions, members of the Board of Curators pushed for the termination of Melissa Click. While members of the faculty supported the rights of student protesters, members of the General Assembly threatened to reduce the budget while creating bills to prevent future protests.

Rather than protect academic freedom and celebrate the power of First Amendment rights, critics of student protest concentrated on a false narrative regarding student protesters. Many failed to honor the legitimacy of the demands students made based on their limited perspective..

Why would a parent send their child into a climate that fails to honor their passions? More than the role of student protest in fostering declines in enrollment, it’s the insensitivity of those outside the university that stirs disinterest in attending.

The University of Missouri could have become a model campus regarding how to deal with racial tension. It was the high road that could have led to massive change.

Members of the Board of Curators and the General Assembly took the low road. They blamed black students for compromising the integrity of their happy home.


Why would you want to attend there?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bombs before Easter

I learned about the launching of the big bomb in the middle of doing a radio show. It followed a high moment of laughter. I can’t remember what I said, but Valerie Whitted and Karl Blake Patterson rolled on the floor and laughed out loud in response as the music played.


It was a much needed break from the lunacy that has come to define our days. Questions about Putin, being dragged on a plane and a myriad of other headlines has made it tough to play. Yes, we needed the break. The music helped.


“I love hearing your smiley faces,” Val Jones, a local poet and weekly contributor on the Creative Colorful People radio show on WCOM, said.  “It’s what I needed given what just happened.”


What happened? We hadn't heard


The news hit us hard and sucked the smiles off our faces like we’d been hit by a big dude holding a two by four.


The obvious questions followed. I wanted to cuss. I wanted to scream. I did.


Then it hit me.


It’s Maundy Thursday, a day on the Christian calendar that forces those connected to the big c Church to contemplate how our sin impacts and impedes the work of Christ. It’s the day we question our motives and assumptions related to the work of the Church. On this day, we ponder how each of us participates in manipulating and executing the teaching of Christ.


How does a Christian find the doggedness required to press the button to launch that huge bomb? How does a Christian do that during the Passion Week? How can we, as Americans responsible for the deaths of men, women and children all over the world, deny how these acts interfere with our high season of spiritual cleansing?


How do we forget Jesus demand – if you deny my desire to wash your feet, you have no part of me? How do we forget the words in the upper room – one of you will betray me. All of you will deny me. You will witness me tolerate extreme punishment followed by my execution. You will say nothing. You will do nothing.


You will forget my teachings and hide among those who requested my death.


The Passion Week reminds the Church of its silence. It forces us to ruminate on a long history of apathy. With each act of terror – the Church was there. With each pride consumed act of rage – America has asserted assumptions of Christian privilege to intimidate other nations.


You can’t do this during our sacred season. You can’t wave the American flag, sing “God Bless America”, while a weapon of mass destructions falls on God’s children in Afghanistan. Not during our holy season.


Not when people are praying to understand lessons related to Jesus’ execution. What role do we play whenever the teachings of Jesus are sacrificed for a national agenda? What happens when the voice of Jesus is relegated in the promotion of an idea that makes America the Christian role model for the world? What are we, Americans who advance a political cause that seeks to execute Muslims, teaching about the life and ministry of Jesus?


The Passion Week is about the silence of the Church. It helps us consider how our silence has showed up historically. It showed up when the Church was silent regarding the execution of Native Americans. It happened when the Church used scriptures to promote slavery. It happens when scriptures are used to silence women.


Yes, the physical body of Jesus was killed. In executing Jesus, the aim was to silence his teaching. Thus, the Passion Week reminds us of how the teachings of Jesus are continually silenced by those who participate in the work of the Church.


Not this time. We have learned our lesson. Not during our week of prayer!


“Play one of those Gil Scott Heron songs,” Whitted said as we approached the end of the show. “He talked a lot about war.”


Blake played one of those songs. I can’t remember the song or the lyrics. Another song penetrated my mind.


“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”


The answer is yes.


It happened on yesterday.