Friday, January 13, 2012

Journey Back to the Heart: DCIA Anuual Meeting

I will never forget my last thought before passing the torch as President of Durham Congregations in Action. I spoke about the organizations role in moving the city past the issues that divide us. It was the day after I made a similar speech at the Martin Luther King Triangle Interfaith Prayer Breakfast. There, I spoke about dreams deferred.

“Where is Carl,” I thought as I made my speech at the DCIA Annual Meeting. Something didn’t feel right. Carl Washington, my best friend, wasn’t there. Washington, the former director of the Department of Parks & Recreation, stood with me during a season of struggle. He, along with Steve Chalmers, former Chief of Police, had tutored me in the work of community organizing. We worked together in helping to build the North East Central Partners Against Crime project. More than any of that, Carl was the one who carried me through a combination of personal troubles.

When I returned home I received a call from his wife. “Carl is dead,” she told me. “He died while jogging…” My head was filled with silence as the tears consumed me. I carried that pain through the night. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to preach. I couldn’t even think.

I made my way to the office the next morning. The first order of business was handling a phone call from one of the deacons. They wanted to meet with me about the jar of condoms placed on my desk by an employee at the Health Department. It was enough to fuel their interest of ridding the church of my leadership. It was too much for me to bear. Carl wasn’t there to listen. The pain consumed me. A part of me was lost, little by little.

The following week I gave Carl’s eulogy. I used a line from Og Mandino’s book The Greatest Miracle in the World. Mandino told the story of a ragpicker. I told them Carl was a ragpicker. He had a way of finding rags and refining them. I was one of those rags.

What followed was a retreat. Pain can do that. I retreated from DCIA. The memory of that night was too much for me to take. I retreated from the NECD project. In many ways, I retreated from the work of the Church. I walked in that space like a zombie in search of a place to die. My intellect and charisma were enough to keep me entrenched in the work, but I knew the truth. It wasn’t the same.

I returned to DCIA last year after Spencer Bradford, the executive director, met with me to discuss my getting involved again. The climb back into my calling has stirred so many memories – some good, mostly painful. The faces in the room have changed over the years. What hasn’t changed is the significance of that message I gave when I stepped down as President.

It’s a message about the bonds we create beyond race, class, faith claims, gender differences, age gaps or sexual orientation. It’s a message about the power of authentic unity and the claiming of the worth of every life. That message hasn’t changed.

What has changed are the people in the room. Some have moved away. Some have died. Some are getting older yet continue to serve the best they can despite the limits caused by age. And, others have lost passion for the vision.

Those who lost passion due to personal pain, like me, need to come back. Where are they now? Have they given up or are they too tired to keep trying?

No more excuses. It’s time to serve again. Back to the heart

DCIA’s Annual Meeting takes place on Tuesday, January 24 at 6:00 pm. It will be held at the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (82 Kimberly Drive). The keynote speaker will be William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Goldsboro, NC. Barber will be speaking on the role of faith communities in fighting racism in 2012. The dinner is $14 per plate, and reservations need to be made by January 19, by calling (919) 688-2036, emailing, or in person or by postal mail to the DCIA office, 504 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701. Payment may be sent in advance or made at the door (checks should be payable to “DCIA” and noted for the 2012 banquet).

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