Thursday, November 2, 2017

Durham black clergy endorse Farad Ali for mayor

Jerome Washington, pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church, stood behind a podium wearing a three-piece blue suit. It was the conventional dress and posture for a Sunday sermon.  Like John the Baptist, Washington, challenged a congregation gathered away from the house of worship.
The message was get out and vote. The congregation was a group of local black pastors assembled at Forest Hills Park.
“In the life of the African American church, social justice has been central, and it is the voice of the preacher - sometimes popular, sometimes not popular- that has guided people,” Washington said during his benediction. “With that in mind, these men and women have come together to say to Durham: we need to come out, we need to vote. We need to vote for our future.”
Washington called the group “Ministers United”. It’s the name given for the occasion. There are no bylaws to solidify the group’s mission statement. They had one goal – to get people to vote for Ali. It’s the first time in a long time that black clergy have united to endorse a candidate for local office.
“History is watching us. The nation is watching us. God is watching us.” Washington said. “There’s too much at stake.”
The men and women behind Washington nodded like parishioners on Sunday during the peak of a sermon. Like a congregation that has witnessed the good mingled with the bad, they stood like their faith required them to challenge the masses.
“Downtown may be on the rise, but there are other things at stake, “Washington said. “There are too many without jobs. There are neighborhoods that need special attention and that special attention does not mean crowding out and forcing out the least.”
In the crowd were two political veterans – Michael Page, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church and former member of the Durham Public School Board and Board of County Commissioners and Frederick Davis, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church and former member of the Durham Public School Board.
“I think it’s paramount in this juncture of Durham’s history that clergy not only show this unified base, but that we educate our congregations so that they can make the best voting decision,” said William-Hazel Height, pastor of Greater Saint Paul Missionary Baptist Church. “I don’t tell them who to vote for, but I lay out the parameters to make the best decision, and I believe Farad Ali is the best decision.”
Washington said endorsing Ali is easy because he sees him at church when Ali’s not worshipping with his congregation at Asbury Temple United Methodist Church or with his family at Immaculate Catholic Church.
“I’ve spoken with many of these pastor’s individually about how unity can bring us together in so many ways,” Ali said. “We should all share in the prosperity. We should not be talking about some areas of our city that are growing, some people that are growing or some buildings that are growing, but we should all share in that prosperity.”
Greg Hardy, president of Tabernacle of Redeemed, said he has known Ali since playing Pee Wee Football together,
“It is important for Durham to see us together as clergy, as men and women of faith to encourage our community to make a difference by getting out to vote,” Hardy said. “We support Ali’s vision, because he is the man we believe can get us to where we need to go. All of Durham, not just those who are well off, but those who are marginalized
Washington said his message to his congregation on Sunday will be a challenge to vote. Many of the ministers mourned the apathy of black voters.
“Why should we have to remind them of the sacrifices made for them to vote, Percy Chase, pastor of Community Baptist Church, said. “People gave up their lives so we can vote.”
The congregation of clergy went their separate ways inspired by the gospel of get out the vote. Washington’s message about the future of Durham was heard like an old Bible story. Maybe it was the one about the children of the Israelites who forgot what the Lord had done. Maybe it was the one about the years of exile after they took things for granted.
Inspired by the spirit of their peers, these black preachers are prepared to do what they do best on Sunday morning.
Go tell that mountain to move out of our way.
Vote.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Church of perpetual Reformation

It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the door of “All-Saints” Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
“Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money,” Luther wrote in Thesis 86.
Luther rejected indulgences, the view that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could be purchased, and recommended a theological conversation. Instead, he sparked the Protestant Reformation.  The One, Holy, Catholic Church was fractured into groups with divergent opinions.
Luther, John Calvin Huldrych Zwingli, and others, led the charge for massive doctrinal changes. They relied on “sola scriptura”, the reliance of scripture versus the bearing of tradition, in forming new theological approaches. In addition to theology, the call for change was motivated by the rise of nationalism, lost faith in the power of the Pope and the alleged corruption of the Church.
It was a Reformation that never stopped. The Church, as the “rock” of faith, is an institution embroiled in an unending movement of reform. The strength of the Church is not in its ability to stay the same. It’s in its ability to remain relevant in an evolving world. The Church, as the “rock” in a volatile world, remains relevant in its ability to cultivate faith when the questions change.
Being a God of “yesterday, today and forever” implies our ability to steadily catch up to the mind of God. It assumes an intellect beyond what we have known. It embraces the presence of God in science and honors the lessons of history. It refuses to remain stuck in a dogma formulated with limited knowledge.
Reformation offers the freedom to listen to new voices. New prophets emerge to force us to listen to the hearts of people dismissed by the ways we practice faith. For Luther, it was the voices of the poor who witnessed the increasing wealth of the Pope. Today, Reformation happens when there are places where we are forced to hear how others live their faith.
Reformation is the ongoing activity of the Church. The power of reform is in creating rooms for others to become witnesses to how God speaks today. Reform is happening wherever there is a place called a church. It also happens in places not called a church. It happens whenever people ponder the meaning of faith.
Reform is the challenge to hear and find God. It happens when people feel abandoned by the Church. The power of reform begins when people scream “me too”.
Reform happens when people demand a place for everyone to be loved. Reformation takes place when people are left out or collect tough tasks to earn admission. Reform disputes all forms of detachment and challenges us to honor the work of God in a variety of places. God is present beyond the things forced in our imagination.
Reformation is the call back to God. It is happening everywhere we look. It’s happening in all of our churches and all of our denominations. Reform is taking place in churches labeled by race – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, African or multicultural. Reform transcends theology and liturgy. It has no bearing on the age of its membership or if the people cling to tradition or welcome a non-traditional format.
Reformation is a call for liberation and is rooted in the demand of inclusion. It consistently challenges us to consider the assumptions of our faith claims. Are we guilty of making ourselves better than others by virtue of our privilege? Have we used gender to foster thoughts of male supremacy, or have we used race to denigrate other races? Is faith used to suppress the people too weak to make it on their own, and do we offer service to bring greater attention to our privilege?
Reformation is the consistent practice of the Church. It happens when we pray for unity and peace. It’s exhibited through what and how we preach. It acknowledges how faith is embodied through our service together.
It’s been 500 years since Luther inspired the Reformation. Today, in remembering that day, we acknowledge the need to reform the messenger of the Reformation. We denounce Luther ‘s views toward the Jews. We deplore his writings that called for the destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues and the confiscation of their money.
Luther’s anti-Semitism demonstrates the need for continued reform. In reforming the work of the reformers, the work of the Reformation continues today.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Jan Cromartie's story: beyond a protective order and shame

I recognized the panic in his voice. It reminded me of the anxiety of countless men and women who have called me when it felt like their world was falling apart.
Jan Cromartie called me after receiving a court date. Nana Asante-Smith, a Wake County assistant district attorney and a political action committee coordinator for the People’s Alliance, filed a protective order against Cromartie.
On Thursday, Chief District Court Judge James Hill granted Asante-Smith a one-year protective order that prevents Cromartie from coming within 100 feet and forbids him from making direct or indirect contact.
Cromartie saw it coming. He asked me to write about his struggles. He admitted he was wrong that day when he shouted at Asante-Smith. He admitted he should have responded in a way that honored his role as a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.
He wanted me to tell the rest of the story. It’s not just him.
It would have been different if he had taken his pills. Sometimes he forgets. Sometimes he fails to take them because they make him sleep too much.
Cromartie is a Navy veteran.  He returned to Durham from tours of duty with post-traumatic stress syndrome and bipolar disorder. The medication he takes help manage mood shifts and anger. Sometimes he forgets things.
Cromartie has limited resources. He works the polls to get enough to pay his bills. Telling his side of the story is often hindered by the things people think when they learn about his mental illness.
“I’ve done nothing but support causes and candidates I believe in,” Cromartie said. “I too am a person who needs advocacy as a veteran.”
At the time, I refused to write the story. I told Cromartie he deserved to be treated with dignity and for his story to be told in a way that considers his mental illness.
“He’s a veteran. He’s a veteran. He fought for us,” Brenda Howerton, member of the Durham County Board of County Commissioner, said. “To condemn him because of what happened to him as a result of fighting for this country is unconscionable “
Natalie Murdock, former press secretary of the Deborah Ross for U.S. Senate campaign, says Cromartie has been helping candidates for years.
“No one has worked harder than Jan,” Murdock said. “He is deeply respected by politicians across the state.”
Cromartie helped Howerton win the first time she ran for the Board of County Commissioners.
“Mental illness is something we deal with. We know he has mental illness,” Howerton said. “For this community to turn our back on a person who has worked so hard is wrong.”
Asante-Smith met with leaders of the Durham Committee to discuss the confrontation with Cromartie. In court, she said the Durham Committee gave “lip service” to her complaint. It wasn’t enough being told Cromartie suffers from mental illness.
“The question for us is how we support a person with mental illness,” Omar Beasley, chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, said. “Jan is a part of this community. We talk about advocating for people with mental illness. We take mental illness as serious as we took the complaint against Jan. He deserves our support as one doing the best he can to deal with his limitations.
Beasley said the leadership team asked Cromartie to stay away from Asante-Smith.
“My concern is in how this is presented as a problem with the Durham Committee,” Beasley said. “This is about how we, as a community, deal with mental illness and support veterans. It’s not about mistakes we make as an organization. It’s about what we need to do as a community to support people like Jan.”
Cromartie says he’s being attacked because of the candidates he supports.
“I feel like I’m being legally bullied because of whom I support,” Cromartie said. “She’s disparaged and maligned my name in public and on social media. Why is she attacking me? Is it because I vote differently?”
I told him I wouldn’t write the story. Why? Because it’s too messy to unfold with a few quotes and thoughts involving legal procedures. It’s about two passionate people supporting different candidates. It’s also about two PAC’s jockeying for political supremacy. It’s also about a woman feeling threatened by a man and her right to use the court system to secure safety.
It’s about all of that.
It’s also about mental illness and how we treat veterans.
This is a story about advocating for the rights of men and women like Cromartie. It’s about balancing his right to work against the need to protect people when he fails to take a pill.
After reading the story told the wrong way, I’ve decided to tell it another way.
Cromartie deserves a life beyond the madness in his head and the rebuke of those unwilling to advocate for veterans and the mentally ill.

More balance please.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Is this the new language of the KKK: Deconstructing the racial divide

Is this the new language of the KKK?
Are the terms of their resistance showing up in ways that hide behind a new version of white sheets?
Is this a new strategy aimed at keeping black people on the short end of the American dream?
These are the type of questions that divide America. Anyone not living under a rock knows something new is brewing in America. It’s easy to blame Donald Trump and his cohorts for expanding a form of nationalism that demands the silence of black people. While the people waving Confederate flags hail the resurgence of their right to celebrate racism, there’s a brewing form of messiness that challenges everything we believe.
What does it all mean?
There are multiple answers to that question. For the most part, the way we query depends on a set of variables. Things like family demographics and political ideology play a part, but, more than anything else, the answer depends on a person’s race.
The consensus among many white people is they’re tired of talking about race. They’re tired of it showing up in conversations about sports. They want to live their life of leisure without witnessing men knelling during the singing of the national anthem. They don’t want their sports talk radio show to be dominated with updates regarding the ongoing drama involving Colin Kaepernick.
They want to move past conversation related to the sins of their long dead ancestors. In other words, get over it.
How that is heard and felt by black people adds to the tension. The response, more than the events, obscures the conversation. It’s a complicated mess that keeps Americans entangled in a web that is hard to escape.
For black people, it feels like the resurgence of the KKK. It’s hard to trust. It’s difficult, no, it’s almost impossible, for black people to understand why white people don’t understand. It’s hard to listen when moving forward demands silence.
American Patriotism as a construction of silence
Exhibit one, the American flag and the National Anthem.
Many white Americans view knelling an unpatriotic act. It’s regarded a slight of the men and women who fight for and die to preserve freedom. No matter America’s history of racism, the ideas reflected in the Constitution, symbolized by the flag and affirmed in the National Anthem, are more important than our past mistakes.
Black people are challenged to overlook history.
This is an example of white privilege at its worst. This is what it means to press an agenda on individuals with a different perspective. It’s offering an assessment related to patriotism that demands allegiance to white Americans understanding of freedom.
Being an American demands silence. You don’t discuss the shooting deaths of unarmed black men and women by law enforcement officers. You don’t cry Black Lives Matter as a statement of the affirmation of black identity. You don’t protest when you have questions involving the judicial system.
You get over it. You trust the system. You do the very thing that has never worked for black people – pretend none of it matters while trusting Americans care about you.
Is this the new strategy of the KKK?
Economic  lynching
Do you remember the lessons of history?
The purpose of lynching was to make a point to those who contemplated freedom. It happened when slaves attempted to run away. It also happened when black people attempted to vote or protested to obtain the right to vote. It happened when black people sought access to housing, education and employment.
It was used to send a message.
If you step over the line established by white people, you will be punished for crossing that line. Those with the power will attack your ability to work. You will be labeled al Lightening rod – one who brings trouble by virtue of their mere presence. You will be measured by your advocacy of justice rather than your ability.
You become too pro-black to share in the profits afforded those who embrace the white American dream.
This is the point many white Americans miss. They fail to understand the power of economic lynching. It’s used to keep black people silent. Families have suffered massively when mama or daddy attacks racism. It makes it hard for black people to protest. It’s why some stay home. It’s why others compromise.
It’s a question that most black people face at some point in life. What’s more important – fighting for justice or making enough money to pay the bills?
This is at the root of the immense gap between how black and white people view Colin Kaepernick. Black people know the pain of his decision. White people, in some cases, merely see a rich athlete taking a position that attacked their views of America.
Redefining legitimate blackness
This is when it gets tricky. What does it means to be black, and who establishes the terms related to the answer?
The answer to the question reflects the continuing struggle among black people to fit the terms of the American dream. What does legitimate blackness look like? How does it dress? What are the legitimate hairstyles? How does it sound? What positions does it take? How does it vote? Where does it go to school? How much money does it make? How does it make money?
All of that is used to qualify legitimate blackness, but, at the root of it all, is the question is the person white enough, in their approach to life, to be considered worthy of a place within the white American dream? In this sense, the terms of legitimate blackness is managed by the white people who extend black people a place at the table.
This, again, reveals the massive tension black people carry related to the treatment of Colin Kaepernick. The owners of the NFL are making a critical statement regarding how they view legitimate blackness. They are using their power and money to make a statement concerning who and what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL.
Let’s take note of the checklist. One, his hair is too long. Two, he’s not American enough. Three, he stands for the wrong causes. Four, he sits for the wrong reasons. Conclusion, he is the wrong type of black person.
He must be silenced.
Apply economic lynching to make a statement to other players. Do it before they try to run off our plantation.
He’s too black to reap the benefits of the white American dream
Is this the new strategy of the KKK? Probably not, but it sure feels that way when you’re a person still searching for freedom

Let’s talk about that American dream.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Black & White: conflicting views regarding war

Black and white Americans have a different way of understanding and communicating their feelings involving war.
It may be the thing that divides Americans more than anything. White people, to a larger extent, form opinions regarding what it means to be an American based on wars fought to maintain freedom.
Be it the Revolutionary war fought to secure independence, the Civil War fought to prevent the succession of Southern States (among other reasons), two World Wars to protect America’s global agenda or the Vietnam conflict aimed at curtailing the expansion of communism – white Americans view wars as an expression of what it means to be an American.
The American flag symbolizes the lives lost and the will of American’s to stand for democracy. This amplifies a faith rooted in the promises of the Constitution. It’s why their ancestors toiled the journey to come to America. This, in the minds of many, is the home of the brave and free. This is why you stand during the singing of the National Anthem and acknowledge the significance of the red, white and blue.
The anthem and flag conjures memories of family members who lost their lives fighting to secure freedom. Standing affirms the truths they fought to secure. They stand out of respect. They stand to honor the men (no women) who wrote the Constitution and pledged alliance to the flag.
Those ancestors fought the British like David against Goliath. They defeated Hitler and the fascism of Mussolini with a pride that gives reasons to stand and sing. They place hands over their hearts while recounting the lessons learned long ago in elementary school and on Sunday morning at Church.
Many white people love America. The flag and anthem are symbols of a pride deeper than the hypocrisy of America’s history.
Black people struggle to stand. Many do, but it comes with deep consideration involving why it’s acceptable to stand. Standing comes devoid in the type of confidence that white Americans take for granted. White people own America as their home. They know and embrace the promises echoed when they listen to the lyrics. This is their America. This is their flag and Constitution.
Black people make a different pledge. It’s not the truth of the pledge that matters; it’s the hope in the promise that gives them reason to stand.  It’s faith in the Constitution and the memory of their ancestors that propels them to sing. It’s not the truth; its devotion to what can be, should be, when their allegiance kndles the promise of the American dream.
Black America’s history with war is different.
The defeat of the British in the Revolutionary war left them enslaved.
The end of the Civil War created a new system of institutionalized hate.
During World War I, 380,000 black men enlisted in the Army; however, they weren’t fighting to protect America’s freedom. They fought to gain respect.
In 1917, Mississippi Senator James K. Vardaman argued that the return of black veterans would lead to disaster in the South. He warned that once “we impress the negro with the fact that he is defending the flag” and “inflate his untutored soul with military airs,” he said “ it was a short step to the conclusion that “his political rights must be respected.”
Black soldiers did not return with the freedom they fought to protect. Black soldiers were denied benefits and disability pay. In what is known as the Red Summer, anti-black riots erupted across the country. After the war, at least thirteen black veterans were lynched. Numerous others survived beatings, shootings, and whippings. Some were attacked for wearing their uniform in public.
Yet, black people continued to pledge alliance to America. During World War II, 1.2 million black men enlisted in the military. In the beginning, they were barred from combat. Their service was reduced to cleaning the toilets of white officers and other service duties. They were only allowed to fight after too many white soldiers died. Although they served their country, they were forbidden from eating in restaurants open to serving German prisoners of war.
When they returned from war, they were attacked on the buses and trains that transported them home. They were denied the benefits of the G.I Bill which would have given them mortgage assistance, college tuition and business loans.
Then there’s the Vietnam conflict
The front-line troops in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were disproportionately black. Many returned home psychologically scarred. They were poorly treated by the Veterans Affairs Department. More than 200,000 left the military with less than honorable discharges.
Some were reprimanded for giving the black power salute. Some were punished for refusing to go on riot patrol duty in the United States after returning from war. Because of poor discharge records, many black soldiers failed to qualify for benefits.
How do you stand for a country that has never stood for you? You do so because of the promise of the American Constitution.
You don’t do so after being forced, punished or shamed into standing.
You take a knee because it’s your right as an American.
You stand because you believe America is still worth standing for, even when everything around you says don’t stand.
But, standing doesn’t mean the same as it does for many white Americans. The flag and the National Anthem don’t mean the same thing. Rather than being symbols of freedom and unity, they represent the duplicity inherent in each word we sing. Yes, even the song points to the massive pretense we claim when we sing.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.
The left out verse is a reminder of the intent of those who crafted the Constitution – the death of slaves who attempted to run away.
As much as white Americans yearn for the end of conversations involving our history, you can’t run away from the truth related to divergent perspectives regarding that history.
White people are proud of the flag, the song and the history.
Black people are still fighting to find meaning beyond the words we sing.
My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim's pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!
Not if you are black.

Thus, what’s wrong with knelling while you wait for reasons to stand?

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