Carl W. Kenney II is an award winning columnist and novelist. He is committed to engaging readers into a meaningful discussion related to matters that impact faith and society. He grapples with pondering the impact faith has on public space while seeking to understand how public space both hinders and enhances the walk of faith.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Protest in Ferguson, MO exposes assumptions regarding black leadership
Photograph courtesy of WCNC TV
A few years back, I wrote a column about the gulf between
the black church on the mountaintop and those stuck in the valley.I argued for a place somewhere in the
We need to find that place fast.
The conversations related to the shooting of Michael Brown
remind us of the deep division within the black community.Saying that is, in part, a celebration of the
diversity of ideas within black public space.Not all black people think the same.It is also true that black people represent a diverse set of cultural
experiences which impact the construction of those views.
Yes, all of that is a celebration.We don’t act the same, think the same, look
the same or experience life the same way.This all leads to variances regarding assumptions of leadership.For those peeking into black public space
from a position of privilege, there are clear expectations related to the
function and assignment of black leadership.
Those assumptions exasperate the emotions of people lingering
in the valley.They watch as the press,
the Church, politicians and the masses request affirming words from those they christen
as the official voice of the people.They do so based on the traditional model for the sanctioning of black
leadership – they seek the voice of the Church.
As meaningful and significant as it may be to seek
leadership from the black pulpit, it must be understood that the certification
of community leadership is attached to one’s position and allegiance prior to
the uproar of a movement.One’s
association with the Church does not credential a person as a community
leader.That can be assumed when the
Church is engaged in the community in a way that makes them a part of the work
in the valley.
The happenings in Ferguson, Missouri are an example of how
leadership is both perceived and assumed within black public space.There are two separate responses to the death
of Brown. As the press and privileged seek leadership from the pulpit, those in
the valley have indorsed their own leaders.They have found, within the crowd of hurting people, those who speak
with clarity regarding the nature of their pain.
As those from the mountaintop of privilege gather to discuss
ways to minimize the hurt, those in the valley take matters into their own
hands.They speak with the form of protest
that those on the mountain deem uncivilized, and a reflection of an
unproductive strategy.Those on the
mountaintop meet, talk, pray, hold press conferences and formulate messages
intended to abate the aggression in the valley.
Those on the mountain assume they are listening.Those in the valley wonder why they speak,
given their failure to be present before the madness became a part of national
Those in the valley meet and plan.They engage in a way that reflects the
culture of the valley.Those on the
mountaintop also meet.They formulate
strategies based on the culture of their institutional assumptions of power and
privilege.They bring a level of
sophistication and common sense that can be embraced by the press and
People watch and wonder about the division. Why are there
two meetings held at the same time?Why
can’t we work together to impact change?
It’s because of the distance between the mountaintop and
valley.Those on the mountaintop have
welcomed people in the valley to the mountain.They are asked to come if willing to embrace the terms of those on the
mountaintop.Those in the valley watch
those on the mountaintop from a distance.They, those on the mountaintop, rarely come to the valley.They find comfort in having escaped the
valley.It’s not safe in the valley –
The mountain is the sanctioning of the American Dream.Those in the valley lack the advantages that
come with mountain dwelling.It is
assumed that the leaders live on the mountain.
Leaders emerge in the valley.They know the language of the valley. They
listen as the press refuses to listen.They watch as people speak for them.They know they haven’t been to the valley.They know they remain comfortable in their
churches while making assumptions about the reasons behind their failure to
take the journey to the mountain.
There has to be a place between the mountaintop and
valley.Finding that place demands
attention before things fall apart.You
can’t speak for people you have never met.Titles, education and acceptance on the mountain aren’t enough to
credential one as a leader among those in the valley.You have to walk those streets before you can
speak for them.