Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Does Bill Bell Have a Problem With Black Voters?

I did a double take when I heard the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People endorsed Sylvester Williams for Mayor. The deep breath I took was enough to rob me of the oxygen needed to survive. I exhaled when I read that Lavonia Allison set the record straight by informing the press that Williams falsely asserted the endorsement. I wondered how the Committee could support Williams over the Bell.

It wasn’t enough to consider the Committee’s recent flirtations with all things absurd. When considering Durham’s political landscape it’s quite clear that the group entrusted with being concerned with the affairs of black people is out of touch with the people they serve. That’s a sad indictment worthy of a miniseries dedicated to illumination. The once powerful political action committee has been reduced to public scrutiny related to internal squabble. But, could it be, that the Political Action Committee of the Durham Committee’s consideration of Williams speaks to a deeper issue? Could it be that Bell’s popularity among dark hued folks is wearing thin?

My close call with whiplash upon hearing of Sylvester Williams’ premature endorsement is due, in part, to my personal interactions with the good Rev. My first encounter was at a community festival. He approached me and accused me of supporting gay rights due to his claim that I must be gay. The old dude locked up in the basement of my inner thoughts came close to running up the stairs, knocking down the door and giving the preacher a taste of what it felt like to give a few beat downs back in the day. I inhaled, exhaled and released.

I soon discovered that Williams’ comments had more to do with his hatred toward gays than his issues with me. Oh, ole dude is just homophobic. What he needs is a lesson on how to engage in that type of conversation void of the verbiage that leaves him resembling a deacon with a 4th grade education. I do respect him for standing by his views, and admire him for the passion he brings to the discussion. My disagreement does not negate any of that.

Which leads me to the broader conversation involving the close call endorsement of Williams over Bell? Is there any rationale in believing people have just cause in searching for a replacement of the man who has served in public office since Moses parted the Red Sea? Even more critical to this discussion has to deal with the fading support among the PAC concerned with the affairs of all things black.

As popular as Bell has become over the years, that popularity has a few major holes in the armor. Many are chopping their lips at the possibility of someone taking hold of his office. Some feel he has become comfortable as Durham’s Mayor. More than that, far too many contend he lacks a genuine concern for the affairs of black people. Oh gasp! Say it’s not so!

It is vital to this conversation to take into account the massive economic development in Durham. To his credit, Bell has been the champion of the growth. He has helped lead the way in promoting economic development within Downtown Durham. With that being said, Bell has not, in the view of many, been one who has helped facilitate opportunity for African Americans interested in getting a slice of the pie.

Critics of that contention may argue that advancement has one color, and that color is green. As impactful as that argument may be, it is reasonable to suggest that a Mayor with the political clout of Bell has an obligation to help facilitate the advancement of African American owned and operated businesses. Durham has a rich African American heritage, and it would seem, one would think, that Bell would make promoting and supporting that legacy as a key priority to his work as Mayor.

This in no way implies that African American owned businesses deserve privileges different from other companies. What it does assert is the same level of treatment as other companies. One would think that the Mayor would go the last mile to support African Americans hoping to build their work in Durham. Many feel slighted by Bell.

That’s not to say any of the criticism is deserved. What it does aver is a matter of perception that Bell should consider as he prepares to take hold of another term in office.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wanted: Five New Commissioners for Durham

Finally, our local Board of County Commissioners has proven they can compromise. After months of internal fighting, Joe Bowser decided to take a walk on the side of the street where sane people travel. He did the right thing by casting a vote for Pam Karriker to assume the seat vacated by the early exit of Becky Heron.

True to her uncompromising posture, Ellen Reckhow cast a dissenting vote remaining true to her claim that she would stand behind Wendy Jacobs until the ship sank. The remaining three Commissioners decided that cooperation meant more than personal agendas and opinions. At the end of the day, what mattered most is putting an end to the public image that the board needs group therapy.

It’s sad that Reckhow was unable to cast that last vote as a statement of board solidarity. As it stands, the local political climate resembles the war among politicians in DC. The hostilities among the Democrats and Republicans elected to serve us can be understood due to political ideological differences. This local muddle of indifference is harder to justify due to the common political affiliation of those who serve on the board. They are all Democrats.

To his credit, Bowser took the high road by compromising. To her fault, Reckhow placed her personal agenda above what the community needed to witness. For those standing outside the power strains of Durham’s political system, selecting a replacement to the board meant more than what the People’s Alliance, The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People or any of the other PACs in Durham desired. It meant more than what Heron wanted in a replacement. Durham’s citizens deserve from their local politicians the same as they require from those who serve in office beyond a local concern. We desire politicians able to compromise when needed.

Reckhow’s dissenting vote exposed a weakness that voters should consider in the next election. There is no place for stubbornness in political office. This is not a place to stand by a promise made to a former Commissioner. The public needs unity and that last vote would have gone a long way to dispel the tension that has wrecked the reputation of the board.

All of the Commission members have tough questions to answer leading into the next election. It is the Rev-elution’s contention that Durham deserves a new set of leaders to serve this community. Yes, it may be time to replace all five members of the board with a group able to move past the inconsistent leadership that has fractured this group of misfits.

The good news is a strong cluster of candidates has emerged from this process. Hampton Delinger stands out among a group of highly qualified people willing to serve. Anita Daniels, who I can vouch for as a person of integrity, and Wendy Jacobs join Denlinger as serious contenders to the post. That’s three out of five. Any takers on the final two slots?

Citizens have a right to demand better from those we elect. If they can’t get along, and they have proven they can’t, get them out! Replace them with a group committed to making decisions best for the masses.

Again, anyone else willing to serve?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can I have this dance: You lead

I’m not a fan of “Dancing With the Stars.” It’s not that I have a problem with ballroom dancing. I plan to dabble in it myself. The dance style is on my list of things to learn within the next few months. It’s up there with salsa dancing with my girl, skydiving and driving a race car. Yep, I have my own bucket list void of a death sentence from my doctor.

With that being said, I took an interest in this year’s line-up due to two steppers. I tuned in to support Chaz Bono after the homophobes slammed the network for allowing him to dance. The daughter of Sonny and Cher made that leap into manhood in 2009 due to not being comfortable with the body he was born with. Those conservative minded Christians wanted to boycott the show for allowing a transgender person to do the jitter bug on national television.

My disdain for reality television wasn’t enough to sway me away from this seasons “Dancing With the Stars.” It’s not entertainment, this is about affirming inclusion. But, there is more to this cast of boogie artist. I wanted to support the power of human transformation. Bono isn’t the only one who has made a shift worthy of attention. I had to support Metta World Peace.

Who? Metta, formerly known as Ron Artest, is the basketball player who made his way into the stands after being confronted by a fan. World Peace was known more for his off court antics prior to that brawl in Detroit. What happened on that day affirmed what many assumed-that Artest was a trouble maker, a bomb ticking. Tick, tock, he was ready to blow, and he did.

I celebrated with World Peace when he was kicked off the show. His response in defeat said more than a celebration in victory. In the world of games, we have to be reminded that it is only a game. Watching Mr. Peace dance and fail inspired me to celebrate the victories and defeats of life. Not everyone understands that important lesson.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Nancy Grace. The queen of Court TV seems to have a hard time with not being in charge. Watching her exposed a major rule of dancing. It’s a lesson that women like Grace have a hard time accepting. You see, in the world of dance, men lead. Women follow. Grace has a hard time in not leading.

That notion forced me to ponder the implications of such a rule. What happens when the woman is better at leading? What happens when the man isn’t able to lead? Why should gender hinder the beauty of the dance? I had to brood over that one for a few hours.

Gender rules have a way of getting in the way of productivity. Women should lead if they are better at the dance. Men should learn to follow if they don’t know how to lead. Gender identity shouldn’t obstruct the splendor of the dance. This has bearing beyond the dance. I can’t help but think that many relationships would work better if we learned to free ourselves of the massive restrictions that come with gender roles.

This brings me back to Chaz Bono dancing with the stars. The critics of her participation on the show have issue with failing to understand Bono’s gender role. Is he a she, or is he still a she? If he is a she then she is dancing with a she and there is no one to lead. It all boils down to folks failing to respect Bono’s decision to identify as a man. In other words, he is a he, and he was dancing with a she. In this case, Bono was taking the lead, but is it appropriate to assume that he should lead when she is a better dancer than he?

At the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is the dance. Who leads isn’t as important as the fun of the bop. Dancing isn’t a power move; it is a celebration of movement. This brings me back to World Peace’s celebration in getting kicked off the show.

I shed a few tears for him. You see folks; he celebrated because he was allowed to dance. After what happened during that brawl one would think that he would never be allowed to dance. He was chosen, and that may have been enough. The fans voted him off, but not because of his attitude. The dude can’t dance. No biggie. He was given the chance to try.

He didn’t have to lead. All he had to do was dance. Beyond gender identity, beyond past mistakes-he was there with Chaz Bono. Two transformed people on a national stage.

Come dance with me. Before we start, can you lead?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hate killed Troy Davis

What does it take to kill a person in this country? Beyond reasonable doubt has become beyond reasonable hate.

After praying most of the day, the state of Georgia took the life of Troy Davis. The last minute efforts of his attorneys to stay the execution failed when the U.S. Supreme Court denied their plea. At 11:08 p.m. Davis was murdered by lethal injection.

No, I didn’t use the wrong term to describe what happened. I’m convinced, beyond all doubt, that Davis was murdered last night. It was hate that secured his fate. Davis, like so many other men and women caught in an unjust system, was murdered to protect the reputation of today’s version of the plantation.

It wasn’t enough that seven witnesses recanted their testimony. It wasn’t enough that there is a possible confession of another suspect. There were too many doubts to take a life. The legal system established to protect the innocent from the bias of jurors has failed once again. Over and over again, we have observed that costly crack within the system. People lie. People are willing to do whatever it takes to win a case. They hide evidence. They determine guilt based on the way a person looks, and they refuse to see past their stereotypes and hatred.

In cases like this, prosecutors tend to place the desire of the victim's family above discovering the truth. The weeping family deserves closure. They simply want the pain to go away. Taking pain away equates to killing the person who killed the one they love. Once the courts zero in on a suspect; hatred takes center stage.

Hatred discounts the humanity of the person accused. Someone has to pay for that evil act that robbed the family of the life they miss so much. Hatred has a way of hiding truth. It seeks the image of what they hate to hate even more. Hatred can’t hear the screech of reasonable doubt. Hatred has no doubt. It hates beyond proof. It functions with its own set of rules.

It is easy for hate to murder what it hates. Hatred feeds on the conditions of bigotry and assumptions. “This is what black men do,” hatred yells in the face of evidence. “He looks like a person who could have done this. He must be guilty.”

Hatred can’t see humanity. Hatred didn’t see Darryl Hunt when the DNA evidence didn’t match. Hatred wouldn’t give time to consider the possible innocence of Troy Davis after reasonable doubt was raised. Hate can’t listen.

A system fueled by hate is managed by those willing to circumvent the suppositions of the system they represent. The Supreme Court embraced the law of hate above the mandate of innocence beyond reasonable doubt. The hate of the family meant more. The consuming hatred of black men numbed the power brokers from hearing beyond that hate.

"I'd like to address the MacPhail family," Davis said, according to The Associated Press, before taking that last breath. "Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I'm not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.”

"The incident that happened that night is not my fault," he added. "I did not have a gun. All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

"I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight," he said. "For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls."

Hate didn’t hear what he said. "Justice has been served for Officer Mark MacPhail and his family," state Attorney General Sam Olens said in a statement.

He calls it justice. I call it murder. Another black man has been killed despite evidence that could prove his innocence. The protection of his rights doesn’t matter in a system soured by the site of black skinned dudes.

There is no reasonable doubt for black men. There is only hatred.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When faith crosses the line

From all accounts, what happened resembled a scene from a John Wayne movie. “I haven't lost my temper in 40 years; but, Pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning; might have got somebody killed; and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't. I won't. The hell I won't," Wayne howls before belting Leo Gordon in the mouth in the movie McLintock.

I’m told a group of Christians deserved to be punched in the mouth after storming into the office of Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) and forcing his Legislative Assistant to become the focus of a prayer meeting. After attempting to lay hands on him, I’m told, they prayed for his deliverance. He was left baffled and disgusted by the assumption made by those on a mission to set him free of his affliction.

The missionaries were in Raleigh to support the band of legislative homophobes consumed with a plan to place a ban of same-gender marriage in the state Constitution. On last week, The Rev-elution reported on the actions of the group led by Donald Fozard of the Mt. Zion Christian Church in Durham. In that blog (“Black Pastors Stand to Ban Gay Marriage: What Up With That”) it was reported that Fozard continually called Brandon, the state’s only openly gay legislator, a liar after Brandon brought attention to a poll that shows 61% of African Americans living in North Carolina oppose an amendment that would ban same-gender marriage.

The group left the press conference and headed to Brandon’s office. Once there they confronted the Legislative Assistant by accusing him of being gay. Once they announced the evil within him that led him to work with Brandon, they compelled him to pray. They surrounded him like a lynch mob from the sitcom “Gunsmoke” and prayed for the demon of homosexuality and his support for the rights of the sodomites to depart.

“It’s a shame what they did to him,” an assistant from another legislator told me. They embarrassed him. They singled him out due to their disdain of his boss’s agenda. They transformed the building into a Pentecostal revival and, by doing so, crossed that line separating church and state. What they did reflects my greatest fear related to the efforts to place a ban of same-gender unions in the constitution. It’s not good to force all citizens to walk down the same street. Doing so denies people the beauty of the landscape on the street on the other side of town.

Those holy folks rolled into Raleigh and knocked that door of separation down. They took advantage of their time on the stage and used it to make another point-they were there to do more damage. They were there to identify all of the enemies to their faith and to cast that devil out of them-one person at a time. This was not lobbying, it was the Inquisition reaffirmed. They stormed into that office to defeat the heretics fighting for same-gender inclusion.

In doing so, they made a major blunder in judgment. They failed by assuming the sexual preference of the person they prayed over. I suppose the gift of prophesy went array on that front. The person they prayed over isn’t gay. I know him well enough to know this to be true. I know him through a mutual relationship with a person I love and respect. My daughter.

My Daughter, Krista Kenney, and that Legislative Assistant have dated since she was a freshman in college. That Legislative Assistance has eaten food from my table. He has loved my daughter when she was sick. He has respected me, but more than any of that, I love him like my own son. I love him because of the way he loves my daughter.

When Krista called me upset, I got upset. That’s what daddy’s do you know. We stand by our children. When you mess with one of my kids prepare to get slapped in the face. So, back off with your duplicitous prayers and efforts to save the world from the spirit of homosexuality. Back off with your scolding of those who live the faith the best they can. Stop your pretentious battle to substantiate that your God is bigger than their God.

In the words of John Wayne, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people. I require the same from them.”

Step back Pilgrim and spend some more time reading that big book you call the Word of God.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hey Hayti. Thanks for the memories!

Liz Jackson and Tamisha Waden swayed on the stage as they belted the lyrics to my favorite old school funk anthem. “Flashlight,” it was like old times on the dance floor as my girlfriend Connie and I did what we do best. We moved and grooved until we couldn’t take it no more.

It didn’t matter to either of us that people were watching. We have an understanding. We’re both ministers. We both have a respect for those old sacred hymns, but when John Brown and the Groove Shop Band fired up my all time favorite-Parliaments “Flashlight”-it would have been disrespectful not to “tear the roof off the sucker”.

Besides, we were there to celebrate all that makes Durham special. “Everyone who doesn’t like Durham can kiss my ass,” a vivacious Jackson declared. “There’s not a place like Durham anywhere.” So true. The thrill of the moment reminded me of the shout after one of my feel good sermons. It was part revival, part reunion and whole bunch of sure you rights.

I must say I was taken by surprise. All of this happened at this year’s Bull City Blues Festival. It’s not that the festival is impervious to the gratification of a good time. This was year 24 of the festival, and, from all accounts, a good time has been had since year one. What made this one different were the circumstances behind it all. There were no big name national acts. There were no ticket sold and it was held at a new site. Despite all those changes, this year’s festival far exceeded the expectations of everyone.

“My son in law is going this year because it is free,” Naomi Quinn, my friend, and Saturday Morning Breakfast Club member, informed me earlier that day. It is true that the attendance at past festivals has been hindered by the steep price attached to getting in. During these tough economic times it is difficult for a person to afford to make that sacrifice. No, forgive me, it’s hard to make that sacrifice even during good economic times.

This year’s festival was billed as a thank you party for all who supported the Hayti Heritage Center over the years. The promise given is for a big gig next year in celebration of 25 years. There’s one big problem. The staff at the Hayti Heritage Center will have a difficult time in surpassing what happened on September 10th.

I couldn’t count the people present. “There must be 10,000 people here,” Connie said as we approached the line at the Joe Diners food truck. Connie and her daughter Deja wanted one of those famous hotdogs. It took us 45 minutes to get to the front of the line. I enjoyed the wait as Bobbie Hinton pumped the crowd up with his blend of blues, soul and funk. I did a two step as my friend Aaron Mills, the bass man for the group Cameo, plucked until we all smelled the funk.

There was only one problem with the night. I had to leave earlier than I wanted. I missed hearing my friend Shana Tucker’s performance. I always giggle when I watch her play that cello while startling folks with her captivating voice. Her gift is the perfect marriage of all things classical and things found in the back room of a liquor house. I also missed Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojo’s. I’ve never heard the group, but I’ve eaten enough crawfish at Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse to make up for my omission. Mel is the owner of the restaurant.

I’m not sure of what we can expect on next year. I know the festival is Hayti’s big fundraiser. They need the money to continue all that great work they do at the center. It’s too bad we can’t expect the same on next year. They have to make that money, and a free concert isn’t a workable business model.

Hmm, I wonder what would happen if everyone present that night decided to give a $100 contribution? I’m not sure if it would be enough to justify another free concert, but it would go a long way toward us saying thanks for the memory.

My check is on the way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Commission Split Raises Serious Doubts

I’m not stunned one bit that Durham’s Board of County Commissioners couldn’t decide on the person to replace Becky Heron. In a previous blog I stated that this group of dysfunctional leaders lacked the guts to appoint Hampton Denllinger. Despite the overwhelming endorsement of the party they all represent, two of the members voted for Wendy Jacobs and the other two voted for Pam Karriker.

Everyone expected Ellen Reckhow and Joe Bowser to stand behind Jacobs. The tie between Reckhow and Jacobs seems to be thicker than the blood normally found among folks in the same family. One is left to speculate about an allegiance that causes a person to vote in opposition of the clear intention of party leadership.

The wild card is Joe Bowser’s strong stance in supporting Jacobs. Unconfirmed rumors have leaked that Jacobs has promised to vote for Bowser as chair if she gets his support. I suppose we will have to wait and see what happens if Jacobs gets the nod. What is clear is the intense conflict between Reckhow and Michael Page. From all accounts, Reckhow is on a mission to unseat Page as chair of the board. Is the rift between Page and Reckhow is disturbing enough for Reckhow to form and allegiance with Bowser to oust Page?

The REV-elution obtained an email sent to Page from Reckhow through her county government email address. The email exposes the inner madness among members of the Board of County Commissioners and can be instructive in understanding why it has been difficult to replace Heron.

“Your anger has continued over the past few weeks. At the board meeting last Monday you turned your chair and your back to Joe and me such that we had to verbally interject ourselves to speak at the meeting (since you would not have seen a raised hand.) I learned from several citizens who watched the meeting on TV that they could not understand why you had your back to us during the meeting,” Reckhow writes.

“It did appear that you were not listening to the question that Joe and I asked since you closed out the discussion by saying that everything we raised had been discussed at the meeting,” she continues. “That was not the case! In fact we raised many new points. Usually, when a lot of questions get asked, an item is deferred to get answers. However, our questions were dismissed-showing a total lack of respect.”

It is significant to note that Reckhow perceives this as an issue with her and Bowser, not her Bowser and Howerton. It gets worse.

“What do you mean by ‘I can assure you that I am not through with your past actions?’ Please don’t threaten me. I could say the same thing to you since there are witnesses to a previous verbal tirade directed at me. I do not deserve to be treated the way you have treated me the past few months,” can you feel the tension.

Then comes the kicker. “Michael-I have been through more than you have concerning Durham County politics; you need to tone down your rhetoric if we are to move forward and serve the citizens of Durham County.”

One thing is clear, things are out of control. Reckhow may be justified for calling Page out for his management style. Who among us hasn’t dealt with a coworker who gets under our skin? As much as I understand dealing with personality conflicts, this goes deeper than he say she say crap. The rift between Reckhow, Page, Bowser and Howerton is seriously impeding county business.

Voters have a right to know if Bowser is pushing for Jacobs due to a promise made. If that is true, and Reckhow is a coconspirator in that maneuver, shouldn’t voters be a tad bit concerned about the implications of having a board with Bowser as the chair? Someone needs to press that question.
Howerton and Page don’t get off the hook. Their action raises serious concerns related to their ability to adhere to the interest of voters. The failure to give credence to the endorsement of Hampton Denllinger says more than the two votes they bring to the party. It says that they lack respect for the group that took time to consider who would best serve the citizens of Durham County.

It’s a dangerous rope to walk. Howerton and Page discounted the process taken altogether by voting for Pam Karriker who didn’t receive one vote from those representing the Democratic Party. What statement is sent to voters after no one on the board considered the intent of the party they represent?

The argument used to support Karriker is missing on many fronts. Howerton and Page were moved by Karriker’s promise not to seek the post during the next election. That argument supports the argument made on the Rev-elution in a previous blog-that board members fear appointing a person with the credentials to unseat them. Some may regard that as a way to dig out from under this pile of dung, but it fails due to the efforts of a notable citizen early in the game.

Many within the community, me being one, pressed the board to consider Chuck Watts to hold the seat for the remainder of the term. The hope was to convince Watts to take the seat with the caveat not to run during the next election. It’s the same offer made by Karriker. The difference is that Watts refused to place his name in the hat due to the Democratic endorsement process. It was a game that he didn’t want to play. Can’t say I blame him for that.

I respect Watts for standing by his principals and for refusing to get into the frail due to his support of Denllinger. Watts, like those within the Democratic Party, saw Denllinger as a good fit. Who in their right mind would discount the endorsement of the party? The answer is simple. Those who care little about what the masses think.

A number of questions need to be raised by voters. The good news is an election is coming soon. From where I stand today, we need to get rid of all of them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Black Pastor's Stand to Ban Gay-Marriage: What Up With That?

Now I’m being told I’m not a Christian. I’ve been called a heretic and a disgrace. Shucks, I’ve been called things that I can’t print on this page. I can deal with being ostracized by the good ole boys and girls club of the Christian elite, but questioning the faith I love so much is stepping on butt whip territory.

“They aren’t Christian if people support same-sex marriage,” Donald Fozard, pastor of Mt. Zion Christian Church in Durham, claimed during a press conference to show African American support for House Bill 777/Senate Bill 106 (the anti-gay marriage amendment). Other speakers at the press conference included Kevin Daniels of the Frederick Douglas Foundation of North Carolina, Patrick Wooden of Upper Room Church of God and Christ in Raleigh, NC and Johnny Hunter of Cliffdale Community Church in Fayetteville, NC.

Things got crazy when Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guillford) brought attention to a recent poll from Elon University that shows 61% of African American living in North Carolina oppose or strongly oppose an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Fozard repeatedly called Brandon a “liar.”

Fozard’s comments follow a pro-amendment press conference on August 30, held by Rep Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake) during which Stam compared same-gender relationships to polygamy, pedophilia and incest. Conservatives are hoping that this issue will forge a relationship with African American voters that will severe the tight grip between African Americans and Democrats.

The strategy is a simple one. There is only one thing that goes deeper than black folk’s allegiance to the Democratic Party, and that is their faith. The religious conservatism of African Americans has long been divergent from the progressive political agenda of those who attend those churches. The rise of the mega-church movement can be, in part, linked to a union between a conservative evangelical political agenda and the charismatic worship experience of the African American faith tradition.

Fozard’s comments should surprise no one. His conservative theological agenda is instructive in gauging the radical departure the Black Church has taken in leading the charge in constructing a progressive theological agenda. One need only consider an article that appeared in the Independent Weekly on March 3, 2004.

"Faggots across the nation, heading churches. Homos on the pianos. Faggots in the choir. What kind of spirit is leading that church?" The Independent Weekly quoted him as he preached to 150 people after watching “The Passion”. “And now? Men with men, women with women? Let me remind you of Sodom and Gomorrah, That sin will bring fire from heaven. I tell the homosexual man: repent, turn and get a woman. I tell the woman who wants to get married: get yourself a man."

He then defines the difference between a true believer and those who play games with God. "The Reverend Al Sharpton says it doesn't matter who you sleep with?" he says. "I'll tell you one thing: the Reverend ain't no Reverend. All of them are running around saying it doesn't matter who you sleep with! They want that little 1 percent of faggots that go to vote."

Could this be our generation’s version of the Reconquist and the Crusades? The war of words hurled by African American evangelical Christians is one that forces a definition related to what it means to be a Christian. It is one thing to discuss and ponder the significance of these matters politically, but it is quite another when a person is questioned due to the position they take. One can be a Republican or Democrat and a Christian at the same time. But, according to Fozard and his cohorts, you can’t be a Christian if you support gay-marriage.

It’s troubling when people have an obsession with forcing others to think the way they do. The last I checked that’s why we have a Constitution in this country. It has something to do with protecting the rights, liberty and pursuit of happiness of all who call America home. I suppose, for some, those who decide to love a person of the same sex aren’t people. They shouldn’t be given rights because they forfeit being created in the image of God due to a decision they make. That’s what some Christians will tell you.

The last I checked, the Constitution is about protecting rights, not taking them away. It’s about shielding those who are different. Not all of us are Christians. Many cling to no faith claim. Does that make them less American, or, as Fozard would have you think, less of a person. I think not. America is a nation of free expression. We have the right to follow happiness in the way that speaks to our unique personalities.

Sorry Mr. Fozard. I am a heterosexual black man. I was born in Missouri. I am an American. I support the rights of those who love a person of the same gender. I believe in their right to get married if they desire living within a committed relationship that will be sanctioned legally. I will stand with them in that struggle. I do so not because I am gay, but because I am a Christian.

That may sound strange to those who claim you can’t be a Christian if you support gay rights, but, for me, you can’t be a Christian if you don’t. It all comes down to how you read what Jesus would have done.

Would he call them faggots, or give them a hug and call them brothers and sisters? I’ll take the hug.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Green Space Feeding On Old School Ways

“We act as if all of this is brand new,” Melanie Wilkerson says when discussing the labels used to describe food. “We capitalize on something that is not. Whatever is natural, whatever is organic, whatever is native, that is nothing new.”

Those labels cost big bucks. Shucks, a trip to Whole Foods will take your whole paycheck. It’s sad that it cost so much just to eat the right way. That’s why Wilkerson and her partner Kifu Faruq have teamed up with Tahz Walker and Christina Rivera Chapman of Tierra Negra for a fundraiser to be held on Friday, September 9th from 5-8pm. They hope to move food justice and food insecurity to the forefront of the food movement in Durham.

“Both of us come from a small black business tradition,” Faruq says when asked about the motivation behind Green Space Initiative, the company she and Wilkerson formed. “There was always someone in our house or in our family with a side hustle. Be it doing hair, doing nails or cooking food that they then turned into a lucrative business.”

Faruq and Wilkerson began thinking about creating their own side hustle in 2009. Faruq was doing clinical research at Duke and Wilkerson did hair at Perfection, a salon owned by her family. They wanted to quit their jobs by finding a way to pay their bills while supporting the community at the same time. The inspiration came when they picked up two magazines-Mother Jones and Yes.

On the cover of both magazines was Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power. Allen, the son of a sharecropper and a former professional basketball player, has worked to transform communities by supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live through the development of community food systems.

“We wondered why couldn’t we do this in North East Central Durham,” Faruq says. “Why couldn’t we help create an alternative food system that is for people of color, run by black and brown folks and our leadership comes from people who are most affected by food insecurity and food scarcity?”

Allen’s work in Milwaukee and Chicago reminded the couple of how their families made the ends meet in the 70s. Wilkerson grew up in Durham on Plum St. Every family living in her neighborhood had a garden.

“They had no idea of what it meant to go without food,” Wilkerson says. “They only brought sugar, coffee, things to clean the house and meat, and sometimes there was someone who still lived out in rural Durham who would slaughter the meat and bring it in.”

Faruq’s mother moved to Durham from California as a vegan. ”She wasn’t going to be able to get tofu, beans, organic rice cornmeal and oatmeal,” Faruq says. “So, she contacted Tree of Life and told them she had to have food delivered to her.” She discovered others with the same needs-Muslims, Jehovah’s Witness, Amish and people from Jewish communities who wanted to maintain their kosher lifestyle-and formed a buying club.

Faruq and Wilkerson formed Green Space Initiative to connect urban Durham communities back to their agricultural roots. So much has changed since life in the 70s in Durham. Processed foods and meat laced with hormones has helped rouse increases in obesity, diabetes and heart disease among African American, Latino and Native Americans. Green Space hopes to create an infrastructure to manage gardens within Durham’s urban community. The fundraiser will help support that effort. The end result is affordable food not laced with pesticides.

Wilkerson and Faruq have come a long way since they saw Allen on the cover of those magazines. Faruq’s Kukia's Cookies is the rave among those in love with her organic, chocolate chip, lavender cookies. Wilkerson has a catering company-Chow Chow- which she describes as Diaspora inspired soul food. “It’s everything from Soul Food to Thai Food,” Faruq says. “It’s food from wherever black folk have been.”

They have called on friends to help support their vision for connecting community gardens. Thomas Justin Robinson, Shirlette Ammons and Shana Tucker will perform at the fundraiser. Tickets are $20. A cadre of local chefs will create a menu using vegetables and herbs from the garden and meat from local farmers. It will take place at the community garden at 2158 Charles St. For tickets call Kifu Faruq at 919-949-4195.

I’m planning to get my vegetables and herbs at Green Space. It’s cheaper than Whole Foods. Besides, it reminds me of my daddy’s garden. I didn’t have to pay two bucks for a pound of tomatoes back in the day. I pulled it from our garden.

They call that old school.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Living By the 3-P's

I live by what I call the 3-P’s. In dealing with group dynamics, never, and I mean never, allow for decisions to be made out of personal differences or political divides. I try to remain focused on policy-the P that matters

I learned that lesson at the age of 23 while serving as the pastor of the Sugar Grove Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri. I arrived at the church one day for what I thought was a normal business meeting. Instead, I was cornered into a fight between the old establishment and those who had united with the church since my arrival. The bad news is those on my side weren’t invited to the party.

I sat and listened as they chastised me for moving the church away from what it had always been-a small family church hidden from view by the long gravel road and trees at the end of Rolling Hills Road. I was too young to understand what was happening to me. It was personal and political. What happened had nothing to do with my leadership style of ability to draw people to the church. I was condemned for being successful while undermining the comforts of those who had made the church their home.

Years of maturity have taught me that most battles are about something deeply personal or political. It’s sad that we can expect the same within congregations . You would think that all of that teaching about being humble and becoming a servant would sway the way church folks handle their business. Sorry to say that the games of the church make the wars between Republicans and Democrats look like a tussle between toddlers over who gets to throw the ball next.

It’s my devotion to the rule of the 3-P’s that compels me to stand up in defense for one of my brothers in ministry. Michael Page is the Pastor of First United Antioch Baptist Church. He is also the Chair of the Durham Board of County Commissioners. In a recent blog I declared the severe dysfunction in the way board members relate to one another. I maintained that their inability to move past two of my P’s-personal and political-is seriously hindering their ability to make decisions best for the citizens of Durham County.

One can forgive the political games played by politicians. I can even turn the other cheek when a few stones are thrown at personal integrity. What gets under my overly thick skin is when a person challenges the credibility of one of my colleagues in ministry. Them are fighting words, as the old folks say.
The first attack came from one of Joe Bowser’s dedicated supporters. Lois Murphy has attacked me on numerous occasions after my questioning of Bowser’s competency as a member of the Board of County Commissioners. She has blasted my work in ministry. She is an expert at making things personal. I laugh it off and walk away knowing she doesn’t know me or my work well enough to walk down that street. Negro please!

Like I said, I have tough skin, but back off Rev. Page. Murphy crossed that line drawn in the sand when she questioned Page as a Christian and a minister. She took her stabs on the blog “Bull City Rising” in a blog that quotes commentary from the REV-elution. Her statement appears in the comment section of the blog “Civitas investigation alleges conflict of interest, open meeting law violation in DSS change”

“Unfortunately, Commissioner Page has reduced himself to spreading and endorsing rumors although he claims he is a Christian,” she wrote. “He of all people should know the power of the “tongue” and how the word of God tells us to chasten it. In addition, he should also know that God wants us to spread brotherly love not rumors and hate.”

Murphy then does the very thing the good books talks about. She looks at the spec in Page’s eye while failing to consider the boulder in her own. “It saddens me that Commissioner Page and Kenney are not interested in the truth although both claim to be Christians. Thus, it is not an anomaly why the world is in such turmoil. I am sure neither of them consulted with God regarding their input in matter. I am hopeful in my lifetime blacks will stop being used to destroy blacks.” What is this, two preachers for the price of one day?

It gets worse when she digs up a rumor certain to put her in danger of going to the Hell she talks so much about. “Certainly, there are rumors regarding both Commissioner Page’s and Kenney’s preferences, but they are just rumors. Aren’t they?”

I did a double take after reading those words. No she didn’t! She pulled a move from Hip-Hop by accusing me and my brother in ministry of being gay. It’s an old tactic used in the African American community to destroy the reputation of a person when the accuser lacks the words or intellect to make a statement that requires words bigger than three syllables. It’s the type of play pen attack that separate those with no argument from those who do the best they can to rise above those two P’s-personal and political.

They say birds of a feather flock together. Murphy and Bowser are two hawks searching for anyone who refuses to play by their rules. I could excuse Murphy’s comments as passionate pleas hoped to defend the integrity of her bird mate, but it is difficult for me to overlook Bowser’s attack of my brother in ministry and Commission Chair.

“He’s a flat-faced liar, and he’s a disgrace to the clergy for saying that,” Bowser told the Herald-Sun after being told comments were made by Page that suggested he had meddled in hiring decision at DSS. My problem isn’t with Bowser defending his integrity. My issue is with anyone who takes a stab at a person’s spirituality and work in ministry.

There’s too much of that going around in Durham. From a homophobic candidate for mayor quick to label a person gay for standing behind gays and lesbians, to those in public office bent on lashing out at those who they simply can’t get along with. The blogsphere is filled with personal attacks that have nothing to do with the P that matters. People are being called gay, liars, cheaters and questioned for their take on Christianity. The only time any of that becomes a matter of public concern is when it gets in the way of that one P that matters-policy.

The upcoming election will force voters to consider more than the important P. Sadly; citizens should consider how personal attacks and politics gone wild can get in the way of another important P- productivity.

In other words, grow up or get out of the way.