Monday, November 19, 2012

First Calvary Baptist Church: More than lip service

The hardest part of not being the pastor of a congregation is finding a place to worship.  I battle with that decision every week.  Where should I go to receive a message that challenges me to remain faithful to my calling? Where should I go to be reminded that the work of the Church matters?
To be frank, it has been a challenge.  It’s not the fault of the places I’ve gone to remain connected after walking away for a season.  I’ve found lively worship that left me rekindled after a week filled with stress.  I’ve heard sermons that inspired me not to give up after grappling with doubt.  I’ve gained much, but something was missing.
That changed on Sunday.
“Because of you, we are able to help a family from Lincoln Apartments pay the deposit and cover the cost for them to move,” Frederick Davis, pastor at First Calvary Church shared. “This is possible because of you.”
Davis went on to share the support of the congregation for a family that lost everything in a fire. “We sent a car load of clothes,” he said.
I wanted to scream a declarative amen.  That’s what’s been missing.  The mission of First Calvary was present throughout the worship service.  It was clear.  It was known and celebrated by the entire congregation.  Everyone understood there is more to being a church than gathering each week to impress people with hairdo’s and wardrobes.  I left feeling connected to a mission to reach out to those who needed more than a spiritual message.
“There are consequences to decisions we make,” Davis stated in his sermon.  “First Calvary will have to answer to some of the decisions we have made.  We have not been placed here to stay in a pretty building and not take care of what is around us.”
That’s when the chills hit.  You can’t depend on those pretty buildings to speak.  Yes, Jesus said the rocks will speak if we refuse, but the people need more than a message from the bricks.  They need love.  They need compassion.  They need food and shelter.  They need prayers, but they need more than prayers.  They need answers.  They need more than judgment, they need hope.
“This is why we need you to give,” Davis stated.  First Calvary was able to help a family evicted from the Lincoln Apartments because of the mission and giving of its membership.  That’s faith in action.  That’s real ministry. It’s what the Bible means when the question was raised, “Can these dry bone live?”
What happened to the tenants at the Lincoln Apartments is tragic.  On Sept. 28, residents were informed by the Lincoln Hospital Foundation, which owns the apartments, they planned to terminate all leases and close the 150-unit complex.  Since then residents have been told they can remain until January, but that’s not easy when money is tight and you have to make arrangements to move.
The tenants marched in protest on Oct. 29, claiming the closure would leave 152 people homeless.  It’s no surprise that the community came to the rescue. Administrators for both city and county government forced conversations to give tenants more time.  Housing for New Hope has matched up to $5,000 in contributions to pay deposits for rent and utilities. The Durham Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance has committed to assisting Lincoln residents.  Many have chipped in to help. 
The support coming from First Calvary isn’t abnormal.  Other congregations have done the same.  What made Sunday different is the way the announcement was normal for First Calvary.  They do more than their share of helping those in need.  It’s part of their culture.  It’s their mission.  It’s their faith in action.
Yes, there’s that beautiful building on Morehead Avenue that seems to be out of place.  I’ve been critical of building fancy structures when the people have no food to eat. It seems like a crave contradiction, our impressive edifices juxtaposed against prevailing poverty.  It seems like a waste of resources when so many are in need.
That’s why the confession Davis made is so powerful.  “We have to answer to decisions we have made,” he stated.  Don’t all of us have to do the same? Haven’t our personal decisions impacted our ability to give more?
So, I have a message for Pastor Davis and the members at First Calvary Baptist Church.  You are the light of the world.  You are a reminder that life emerges from the ashes.  You are a tower representing the strength of a community.  You are hope in action.  You challenge us to do more than we have before.  Just like that amazing temple on Morehead Avenue – it seems out of place, but it’s not! 
And, I have a message for those broken.  Look to those hills where your help comes from.  Troubles only endure for the night, they say. Joy comes in the morning.
Mine came on Sunday morning, and it happened on a hill called Calvary.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mariann Aalda: Liberal white people get it now

Today’s blog is a repost written by Mariann Aalda.  Her blog OY-VA (Occupy Your Vagina) is an extension of her work to advance awareness related to the sexuality of mature women.  I first met Aalda at the Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem, NC where her play 3 Blacque Chix was the talk of the week.  Since then, Aalda and Iona Morris (the daughter of Greg Morris of Mission Impossible) have rewritten the play and named it M.O.I.S.T, an acronym for the Multiple Orgasm Initiative for Sexual Transformation.  It’s a musical comedy celebration of women not too old to have a good time. I worked with Aalda and Morris at the last Black Film Festival in a workshop called Good Sex, Bad Sex & Safe Sex, and we have plans to collaborate more in the future.
Aalda portrayed DiDi Bannister on the long-running ABC soap opera Edge of Night, and had a regular role on the CBS sitcom The Royal Family, as the daughter of Redd Foxx and Della Reese, and the HBO series 1st & Ten, as the wife of O.J. Simpson's character. In 1999, Aalda appeared on NBC's Sunset Beach as the tragically disfigured Lena Hart. She has also appeared in several films including The Wiz and Class Act opposite Kid 'n Play.
She’s a close friend who has helped me process issues for my blog.  Today, I’m letting her tell it like it is.  Her blog is a must read!
RACISM: Liberal White People Get it Now
Previously, they had thought that…
The Cosby Show signaled the end of it…the deification of Oprah signaled the end of it…Vanessa Williams chosen to be the first black Miss America signaled the end of it…Halle Berry winning an Academy Award signaled the end of it.  And -- even if not any of those things -- then the 2008 election of Barack Obama as President of the United States certainly meant the end of it.
But after all the hyperbole and vitriol of the 2012 presidential campaign and the sour-grapes trash-talk of Obama’s re-election, black people don’t  have to try and explain it to them anymore.
No, we are not “being paranoid,” nor are we “too sensitive.”
But you get it now…to the point of an admission by MSNBC newscaster Chris Matthews that the hate directed at President Obama for no other reason than the color of his skin made him embarrassed to be a white person.
Despite his anguish, I’m relieved.
Because, as Dr. Phil would say, “You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.”
And you can’t acknowledge what you’re not aware of.
But this last presidential election has smacked liberal, intellectual white people all up in their faces and upside their heads so hard that they can’t miss it. NOW they get it.
It’s not a dog-whistle anymore, it’s a freakin’ BULL HORN!
Racism is alive and well… and it lurks in the hearts of millions of their fellow white Americans.  
Like most of my black friends, my own multicultural coalition of friendships includes whites for whom I am their only black friend.  These friendships are warm and loving and I’ve never doubted their genuineness. They have never made me feel like a token.  I have, however, at times felt like “The Ambassador of Blackness to The Commonwealth of Caucasia.”
While these friends don’t think of me as “other,” I do feel they have sometimes thought of me as different from the “other.” I am college-educated, and they see me as approachable (in contrast to the-angry-black-woman civil service worker they see stereotyped in TV and film), industrious and a peer.
But with no malice and (I’m pretty certain) no forethought, here are a few odd comments that have been made to me over the years:
“If all blacks were like YOU, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
“You’re not really black, you’re black-ISH.”
“You’re not BLACK…you’re ‘spicy white’.”
“Read it (an audition scene) again, and this time don’t be so articulate.”
“Let’s face it, Mariann, nobody’s going to hire you to play the friend of the white girl…you ARE the white girl.”
“The reason she hates you is because she’s PWT and you’re more of what a white woman is SUPPOSED to be than she’ll ever be.”
I owe my articulation to Catholic School…particularly Sister Thomas Francis.
I owe my college education to parents whose economic hardships forced them to drop out of high school but who made graduating from college mandatory for my sister and me and took out a second and third mortgage on their home to make it possible.
In particular, I owe my industriousness to my dad who -- on the eve of my very first day of school – rallied me with: “Because you’re a little colored girl, you’re going to have to work ten times as hard as little white girls to accomplish the same things.  But you’re a SMART little colored girl and you’re MY daughter and I know you can do it.”
And even though Daddy was a Republican, he continued to believe in me and loved me nonetheless after I declared myself a Democrat like Momma. 
My affability is a gift of Nature.  I am simply genetically wired to be optimistic and good-natured.
I am not exceptional. I am the norm.
And my good nature is wearing thin.
I’m getting tired of all the ego and the rage and the hypocrisy and the snarkiness and that blustery pot of a Limbaugh constantly calling the kettle black and being rewarded for it with a big, fat paycheck.
That’s making me reallllllly CRANKY!
But it’s racism that needs to take a nap.
Note to white friends: Now that you’re awake, how about taking a bigger role in changing that baby and finally putting it to bed?
Note to open-minded white people who just don’t happen to have any non-white friends: Make one.
Note to closed-minded white people who don’t have any non-white friends and don’t want any:  Make one.
Or risk drifting out to see all alone on a melting ice-flow and perishing at your own risk.  Because ready or not, like it or not, believe it or not…the climate IS changing.
Catch the wave.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

751 South development proves the price to gain office may be too expense

My deepest fear is unfolding before my eyes.  I saw it coming like a prophet in exile on the Island of Patmos. 
Commissioners’ Chairman Michael Page has taken a page from an old gangster flick by reminding members of the Durham City Council not to move on his turf without permission.  Page’s unfortunate tirade was reported by Jim Wise in the News & Observer.  Could this be the type of leadership Durham can come to expect over the next four years?
Members of the City Council and Board of County Commissioners were discussing new policies on annexations and the extension of utilities beyond the city limits.  Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, who was chairing the meeting, began to walk out when Page made personal attacks.
Page argued the City Council showed disrespect for commissioners by approving the new policy without consulting them. “Truth be told I think this was underhandedly and sneakily handled,” Page said.
Page claimed the new policy is aimed at blocking the controversial 751 South Development, and blamed City Councilman Mike Woodard for the policy.
 “I’m sure you orchestrated with this as well,” Page said.
“How do you know that?” Woodard responded.
“Because I know you,” said Page.
“Oh, my goodness, this is too much,” McFadden while walking toward the door. “I’m out of here.” She stopped when Page objected to her leaving.
“Now you all have gotten into arguments, this heated discussion,” she said. “It’s not professional. ... You called us sneaky, underhanded and I’m not going to sit here and tolerate it.”
Wise reports the meeting resumed, but arguing continued.
Like I said, is this what we can come to expect over the next four years?  I saw it coming.  I hoped voters would put an end to the cycle of dysfunction that has plagued the Board of County Commissioners.  I fear we can expect more of the same.
At the center of the battle is the 751 South Development project.  Members of the City Council voted against extending utilities to the controversial development. In doing so they blocked the plans of developers endorsed by Page, Commissioner Brenda Howerton and former Commissioner Joe Bowser.
Durham has been locked in a fight ever since.  Last week’s election for the five seats on the Board of County Commission pitted the two sides in a war that exposed wounds that will take group therapy to overcome.  Page’s antics reflect tensions not only among members of the Board of County Commissioners, but hostility between members of the City Council and commission.
Durham can’t afford this type of hostility.  We have worked too hard to overcome the name calling and back biting that once made Durham the laughingstock of the state.  Voters were given a chance to remove the cancer that hinders county government.  They voted.  We are left with a mess that will keep us SMH.
Behind all of this is a lack of integrity and civility.  Page made it personal.  He’s developing a reputation of being hard to work with.  He treats politics like a war were it’s his way or no way.  Voters deserve better than that; however, they weren’t given much to convince them to vote another way.
Omar Beasley offered hope for a troubled commission.  Sadly, his poor judgment circumvented what could have been – a voice of reason. 
In endorsing Beasley, I contended the board needed a person who could be objective on development issues.  Durham voters needed a person who could hear both sides, and vote with integrity.  I supported Beasley due to countless discussions on this matter.  He convinced me he could remain objective.
I’m disappointed to hear he received a campaign contribution of $1,050 from developer Neal Hunter.  Hunter is the backer of the 751 South development.  When it was reported that the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People received a contribution from the super PAC supporting the 751 South development project, I made a distinction between support for the Durham Committee and the support of Beasley. 
Beasley failed to take a position on 751 South.  His critics argued he was a supporter, but failed to make that known.  I defended Beasley’s not taking a position.  I envisioned compromise.  I was wrong to make that assumption.
I accept Beasley’s reasoning for accepting money from developers.  He says he refused to accept money until the end of the race. “I made a decision to finish the campaign in the black and not the red,” Beasley says.
You can’t blame him for that, but it’s a rationale that exposes an inability to function in the way I expected when I endorsed Beasley.  Durham needs leaders who will refrain from taking the bait.  We need leaders who will remain clean from the tarnish that comes with being fed by those with an agenda.  There comes a time when you have to say no to the money, even when it means you suffer for not taking the cash.
Maybe this is the price we all pay for having a system that required candidates to beg to get elected. I want politicians untainted and pure of heart.  How can they do that when so much of their identity is tied to those who keep them in office?
I expect four more years of this mess.  I’m hoping new candidates will emerge for future elections.  I hope and pray they will place the needs of the voters ahead of their desire to get elected.  If not, this is what we can expect.
What does it cost to win an election? Or, what good will it be for a person if they gain the world and forfeit their soul?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Remembering Vietnam

They bring black men home in body bags.  That’s what I thought back in high school just before the Vietnam War came to an end.  I remember that day, April 30, 1975, when it was announced the war was over.
My fear ended.
I’d seen too many who came back home in one of those bags.  For those who made it back walking and talking, it felt like something died between leaving and coming back home.  The look on their faces mimicked the panic of something lost.  They walked like ghost seeking a house to haunt.
I watched as older cousins came back hooked on heron.  They poured the poison in their veins to avoid the memories of things too deep for me to understand.  I watched them die slow physical deaths as drugs killed the last part left after the war took the rest away.
The clock was ticking. 
My time would come soon.  I considered my dreams for a better life, yet knew Uncle Sam would come knocking on my door.  The draft was the Grand Reaper.  The books I read seemed a waste of time given the pain waiting on the other side of graduation.
The gloom intensified with each report of lost lives.  I watched and listened as young people protested.  I listened to the songs of my generation, and fell in line with those who fought against war.  It seemed a waste of human life.
More than anything, I was scared to die.  I didn’t want to fight when there were too many battles in America.  There were the constant fights with white boys after racial slurs forced a response.  There were the fights for respect after being judged for reasons beyond merit.  It was an age of deep rage. Talk of revolution was countered with a promise for integration. 
I didn’t want to fight for a country that didn’t want me.
It was hard to understand war.  The years following my high school days have helped me view war from the lens of maturity.  I’ve listened to the stories of men who fought to maintain our freedoms.  I honor the sacrifices of those who came back home in body bags.  Many didn’t want to fight, but their service to our country is no less because they were forced to go.
Isn’t that the tragedy that comes with maintaining our national security?  Lives are lost.  Others return mangled – some physically, others mentally.  It’s the sacrifice they give to secure our freedom. 
I watched as my cousins came home.  Broken by the war, they were left abandoned by a nation at war with the war.  The national debate over the legitimacy of the war left them devoid of resources to transition back into life back home.  Many had no formal training.  They knew guns.  They knew death.  They needed work.
They needed our respect.
Many conflicts have followed Vietnam.  Countless have come back home in body bags.  Today we honor their service to our nation.  Some died willingly.  They signed up to fight for the red, white and blue.  Others were forced to go.  Their sacrifice is no less due to the nature of their enrollment. 
They were sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends. They attended church on Sunday and Saturday.  Some went to the synagogue on Friday.  They came from every state in the union and every community from coast to coast.  They were Republicans and Democrats.  Some were Libertarians.  Some didn’t care about politics.  They were a blend of national unity – all races, creeds and other forms of identity. 
They died for our freedom. So, to those who died because they were forced to go – thank you for your sacrifice.  For those who stood in pride and died for the flag they loved so much – thank you for your sacrifice.
And, for the veterans in our midst, we give our flowers today.
We don’t understand some of the wars we have fought.  Veterans Day is not about the politics surrounding war.  It’s about the life and sacrifices of those who have served.
So, thanks to all our Veterans.  You have served us faithfully.  We honor you.  For those not with us, there’s so much I wish to say.
Not enough words.  There will never be.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What Happened to Omar Beasley in the race for Board of County Commissioners?

Now that the dust has settled on the Presidential election, let’s talk about what happened in the race for the five seats on the Durham Board of County Commissioners. 
The traditional rule for those who run for office is to secure as many political endorsements as possible.  Victory is correlated to those endorsements.  That, combined with voter turnout, determines who wins.
This election reflects an interesting shift.  A close examination uncovers voter patterns that prove voters opted to decide based on another reason.
The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People endorsed Michael Page, Brenda Howerton and Omar Beasley.  Howerton and Page won, with Howerton receiving the most votes (18.9%).  Page placed third with 18.66% of the votes.
Both seemed to be vulnerable entering the election.  Their victory can be attributed to the Durham Committee’s endorsement, but how do you explain Beasley placing last with only 6.89% of the votes?  If the success of Howerton and Page is the result of the Durham Committee endorsement, those same voters decided not to vote for Beasley.
Beasley’s exposes a potential break among those who followed the Durham Committee endorsement.  Many of those who voted for Howerton and Page decided to go against the Durham Committees recommendation by voting in another way.
Also telling is the performance of Wendy Jacobs.  Jacobs placed second with 18.84% of the votes.  Could it be that black voters supported Jacobs?  It’s a critical question due to the performance of Ellen Reckhow and Fred Foster.  Jacobs, Reckhow and Foster all received the endorsement of the People’s Alliance.  The PA, like the Durham Committee, only endorsed three candidates.  Jacobs’ strong performance, combined with comparative poor numbers from Reckhow and Foster, raises questions regarding the force of the PA endorsement.
The endorsements of both the Durham Committee and the Pa were compromised during this election.  The election was won due to strong black turnout, but in this election many of those voters followed the recommendation of the Democratic Party, versus that of the Durham Committee.
The Democratic Party pressed people to vote a straight Democratic ticket.  Beasley entered the race after securing 7,000 signatures during a petition drive to be placed on the ballot.  A glitch in timing forced Beasley to run as an independent, versus being allowed to run during the Democratic primary.
My own voting experience confirms this strategy.  I was approached twice by people who encouraged me to vote straight Democrat.  Most voters failed to understand that doing so would leave Beasley on the short end.
The strategy of the Democratic Party compromised the efforts of both the Durham Committee and the People’s Alliance.  If the Democratic Party’s agenda was to prevent an Independent from winning a seat on the Board of County Commissioners, they were successful.  If that was their objective it’s noteworthy to mention that Beasley is a registered Democrat.
A side note to this past election is the incestuous relationship between the head of Durham’s Democratic Party and the Political Committee Chair of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.  Tracey Burns-Vann, head of the Democratic Party, is the wife of Andre Vann, Chair of the Durham Committee’s Political Committee.  Their relationship did not compromise the way both groups functioned.  Tracey’s push for a straight Democratic slate went against the Durham Committee desire for voters to vote for three.
It’s a complicated game. At the end of the day, what this election exposes is the complexity of Durham’s political machinery.  I’m not sure the end result offers Durham what it deserves in leadership.  It’s more about group think and less about real issues that impact all of us.
Someday a candidate will show up who will run without the blessing of the political powerhouses.  When that happens, things will change in Durham.  As it stands today, voters are manipulated by a process.
This too will pass.