Thursday, July 31, 2008
I heard a number of pundits and politicians, unfamiliar with the Black Church, question what took place in the churces whose make-up was predominately African-American. A question which, by the way, is never asked when it comes to contemporary Gospel music, or other forms of worship in the Black church whose design is to make it into the 'mainstream' and is therefore often reduced to entertainment more palatable to a broader audience.
The styles of preaching that have sustained the community are by no means limited to that of Jeremiah Wright, or James Cone as important (yes important) as their contributions are to the life and culture of the African-American Church. There are countless others, both contemporary and historic.
One such figure died recently: Dr. C.A.W. Clark. He passed away on July 27, after 58 years of serving the Good Street Baptist Church, in Dallas, Texas. And his the mark of his ministry upon the church world, African-American and beyond is indelible.
Dr. Ceasar Clark passed away this past Sunday, July 27 and there is emptiness for those of us who belong to the African-American church community. He was so much a part of the church landscape that it is nearly impossible for us to imagine that world without him.
Clark’s phenomenal influence upon the Black Church can be seen in this way: he impacted the substance and style of preaching for more than five decades, while bypassing nearly every medium for mass exposure. He had no radio or T.V. broadcast, no internet out reach. He wrote no books. Yet if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, few were flattered as much.
Ceasar Clark’s predecessor at Good Street, Dr. T.M. Chambers was also a preaching legend. It was the equivalent of W.A. Criswell following George Truett. But Clark was distinct in his preaching and his leadership. He led by inspiration. He was progressive and unthreatened by change, even in his advanced years. One member says, Clark told him, “The one thing about trying new things, is that if they don’t work you can always go back to what you did before.” He led Good Street to ministry in economic empowerment by establishing a credit union, low income housing, and subtle but significant political influence. He was such a respected figure that even among other ministers when his judgment was made known, it was seldom publically questioned.
His was an era when the pastor was a respected figure in the Black community. The interpretation and teaching of scripture was seen as a gift from God that drew great admiration. African-American clergy stood astride two worlds: the familiar world of the descendents of slaves; and the foreign territory of the descendents of slave owners. On one hand respected, admired, loved and sometimes even feared for his apparent closeness to God, on the other acknowledged as the one leader in the Black community who spoke to, if not for, every segment of that community and was seen in that regard as representative.
But as inspirational and innovative as Clark was as a pastor, he was known for his preaching. One member of Good Street probably said it best – he was addicted to preaching.
Clark commanded attention from the outset in the pulpit. In a deliberate drawl, he would announce a sermon title which had congregants begin listening on the edge of their seats: ‘Make this Valley Full of Ditches’; ‘…And the Worms Got Him’; ‘This is a Large Place’.
He would pace himself throughout a message that often became scholarly thesis, citing with poise, and familiarity, philosophers, great works of literature, and theologians. This generous sharing of the intellectual side of faith gave a deeper validity to already committed, while making it difficult for the educated to brush off that faith as pure emotionalism. His preaching was as much respectable craft as it was spiritual conviction.
Clark’s scholarship and erudition gave way to the traditional melodic cadence of the Black Baptist preacher, finally climaxing in escalating octaves and eloquent perorations vividly describing the triumph of Christ at Calvary and the resurrection or the ultimate freedom and vindication of the Second Coming.
As I told a group of preachers whom I helped train when I was a pastor, “I’m sorry you never got a chance to hear him.”
Often Dr. Clark would end a sermon quoting several stanzas of a favorite hymn of the church driving home his point with glorious appropriateness. One song he quoted often seems most fitting now: ‘Servant of God well done, rest from thy love employ. The battle’s fought, the victory’s won. Enter thy Master’s joy.’
Like Jeremiah Wright, this youtube clip doesn't quite due justice to life of his preaching. But it is a sample of the preaching to which we were treated and to which we thrilled for more than five decades...
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
My latest column in the Dallas Morning News addresses the impact of cuts in a couple of significant areas - at least significant to the areas where the people we at Central Dallas Ministries work with and care about, live. At some point cutting budgets becomes detrimental to the goal of revitalizing distressed neighborhoods and you have to make a decision to invest in these communities for long term benefit.
You can find the article by clicking on the link below.
Monday, July 28, 2008
I was in Baltimore a few years ago at a meeting to talk about community organizing among African-American churches. There were about 30 plus Black pastors present. A bishop from the COGIC church (Church of God in Christ), told the story of an elderly church member who wanted to ride with him to a church service. He told her he would be glad to pick her up and on the day of the service he came to the woman’s house to pick her up.
The woman was dressed to go, but she was sitting in the house in tears. When he asked what was wrong, she told him her problem. She lived in a dangerous neighborhood. She had burglar bars on every window and every door in the house. She had a skylight in the living room and even that was covered with burglar bars! She was ready to go, but she couldn’t find the key to lock the burglar bar to the front door! She was locked in, even though the door was open.
In some way that is our country’s dilemma. It’s not that we don’t know where we want to go. It’s not even that we don’t want to go. We know what we want. According to the ideals we espouse, we know that we want justice and fairness; we want every citizen of our country to live productive, healthy and wholesome lives. As a country, have the unsettling habit of doing things which frustrate these very aims. And the challenge is to be able to put behind us - to lock the door on, if you will - those almost tendencies to do those things which violate our aims and goals and move forward to a future that enriches and enobles all of us. In short, we've got to find the key and lock the door!
It is interesting that we actually know what to do. We know what works. Ours is a country that put a man on the moon - we know how to educate children in math and science; this is a country which overcame the depression and transformed a wartime economy into the richest, progressive and innovative peace time economy in the history of mankind; haltingly we worked to try and strain beyond our prejudices and made significant steps to overcome legacies of racial injustice and oppression, we know what works because we have a history, however sporadic, of doing those things that work.
CNN's special shows us that the successes experienced by some segment of the African-American community, mirror in some ways, the dramatic successes of some immigrant communities that came to this nation voluntarily. We know what it took: creative mixtures of public policy and personal responsibility. It took hard work and work programs; it took generous employers and wage initiatives; it took political courage on the part of some elected officials and it took courageous legal ruling by brave jurists; it also took bravery to take advantage of the opportunities that legislation and legal rulings provided; it took caring education communities and communities that cared passionately about education; it doctors who dared to care and a broader health care community that dared to listen.
We like countless civilizations before us, have a past that is filled with glory and gore. We must move on inspired by the glory, but lock the door on the gore. The key is somewhere among the rubble and we must find it.
I know I've used an imperfect metaphor to explain why I have hope for a very difficult issue. But that's our dilemma. Not just that of Black people or Hispanics, or any one race. It’s the dilemma of our country. We are challenged to do what we know to do, and to move ahead to make a new world out of this old one. Yet as difficult as it may be, I still remain hopeful!
How about you?
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
As a minister for more than 30 years who believed his ministry would be spent almost entirely in and among the African-American community, I've found the the foundational lessons in leadership I would learn in the Black Church and community, seasoned by many different influences. I have been partners with and mentored by Ernie Cortez, Southwest Region Director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, along with a tremendous group of community organizers and leaders in the IAF, particularly in Dallas and Texas in general; Peter Johnson, a local activist whose history and ties with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has introduced me to a number of Civil Rights leaders who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., such as Walter Fauntroy, Joseph Lowery and Fred Shuttlesworth; and of course Larry James, President and CEO of Cental Dallas Ministries and our committed, talented staff. They have all taught me the value of what it means to be concerned for and work in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized and people of different backgrounds to make our country better.
The DREAM Act is one of those initiatives designed to do that. Last year, I wrote an op-ed that was printed in the Dallas Morning News in support of the DREAM Act. While the legislation was defeated last year, I'm still working with another group of great people to move us forward to the realization of justice for young people who only want to benefit a country that has been their home almost all of their lives. Here's the link, I hope you can get behind this effort as well.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
His name was Emmitt Till. He lived in Chicago but was visiting his great uncle, aunt and cousins in Money, Mississippi. When he and his cousins went stopped in the town store to buy candy, he committed the unpardonable sin of whistling at a white woman. And for that, three days later, the husband of the offended woman and his friend, came to his great uncle's house, rousted him out of bed, kidnapped him and visciously, savagely, mercilessly beat him to death.
Then they tied a 70 pound cotton gin fan around his neck with barbed wire and threw him in the Talahatchie River.
He probably should have known better. Maybe he should have understood the ways southern mores differed from those of the north in 1955. But he was 14 and this was his fate.
His mother had to have officials from Chicago intervene to keep the city officials in Money from burying Emmitt in order to cover up the crime.
When she got the body to Chicago, she refused to have a closed casket ceremony. She wanted America to see what racism had done to her boy. And so, sacrifing the right to privatize her pain and mourn in the shadows, she shared her grief with the world.
Chicago filed past the gruesome figure - the remains of her only son - and so did the rest of the country as pictures made their way across the U.S. and around the world via JET Magazine, a small weekly publication by Ebony Magazine. It came to symbolize the horrific nature of hatred
bigotry, repression and oppression in the South. A 14 year old boy, so badly beaten by grown men that he is horribly disfigured, first by the beating and then by three days laying undiscovered in those Mississsippi
The two men were put on trial. There were two parts of the trial that stand out, when I hear the story: one was when the great uncle, Mose Wright, stands up in the court room and against all the conventions of that day pointed out the men who came into his house and kidnapped his nephew. It took a courage that I doubt I would have had, but it was an act of brave act of defiance that most of us probably can't understand today.
The next thing is the outcome of the trial. The two men were acquitted. In spite of eye witnessess and incontrovertable evidence, an all white, all male jury found them not guilty after an hour of deliberation. One juror said it wouldn't have taken that long if they hadn't taken time to drink soda pop!
The two men were later no billed by a grand jury on the kidnapping idictment.
In January 1956, they sold their story to LOOK magazine for $4000. They told the story of how they murdered Emmitt Till.
What's amazing, is that out of that tragedy, the seeds of the modern day Civil Rights Movement were planted. Black people began to see how cheaply their lives were regarded and began to stand up to be recognized as human beings with dignity and a sense of their own self worth.
It wasn't full flower right then. There were other murders: Jimmie Lee Jackson, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, James Reeb, Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. There wouldn't be a meaningful Civil Rights Bill until 1964, no Voting Rights Bill until 1965. No Federal anti-lynching law until 1968. But gradually it became clear that Emmitt didn't die in vain.
Or did he? When I think of how little we regard life, both black and white. How we disfigure one another with stereotypes, suspicion and the same hatred that took this boy's life.
As a society we still cut off young people from their future - not with gun butts and blows from cruel murderous fists - but by poorly educating them and leaving them frustrated and without hope. An atmosphere of violence is still is a part of our culture: gang violence, black on black violence, racial hatred and the gross insensitivity that refuses to recognize the humanity of our neighbors because they are black, or brown, or white, or poor; the paranoia that makes it so hard to make room for one another; and our suspicion of one another that creates the space to continually do or allow to be done, terrible, horrible things to one another.
Perhaps this is all a little remote, way too preachy. But there's a 14 year old who's not celebrating his 67th birthday this July 25. I think its worth remembering and trying to learn from his life and his death.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I was diagnosed last fall and I have to admit hearing that you have cancer, no matter what kind, is unsettling to say the least. Even though prostate cancer is one of the most treatable of all cancers its still not easy to here the words that confirm that you have contracted the disease.
For reasons that I'll include in another post, I put off the biopsy that showed the extent of the cancer for a couple of months. But fortunately it was caught early and I can look forward to full recovery.
There are a few things that come to mind when I think about my experience.
One is how few men talk about their experience. Once members of the church, friends and others found out I had the disease other men who had gone through the same thing came out of the woodwork! They did offer words of comfort, prayers and encouragement, but I kept thinking that perhaps if I had known how many faced what I was going through, I wouldn't have been nearly as worried, nor would I have brushed off so many opportunities to learn about prostate care. Although my father has the disease and we had talked somewhat about what he was going through, I didn't make the connection. I didn't even know that my maternal grandfather had the disease until after I had been diagnosed!
Obviously much of that was my fault for not asking enough questions, but in the end there ought to be much more conversation among men about what this disease is and prostate health in general. We need to do as much promotion with regard to prostate cancer as we do with breast cancer.
Secondly, I thought about those who don't have insurance. Even though the hospital stay was short (overnight), and the surgery relatively innovative (the robotic laproscopic technique), it was also an expensive surgery. How many men die needlessly, because they don't have the examinations, or treatments which could help them detect, live with the disease or choose appropriate forms of treatment? Think of the number of poor whose treatment (if they receive it at all), must be much more invasive and devastating.
One of the reasons I do what I do for a living, is to be a part of work that looks to make good medical care available to people who are on the margins - its hard work because we have a long way to go!
Finally I thought of those who are in denial about the importance of prostate care, diagnosis and treatment. Many men apparently don't want to know. It's hard to blame them on one level.
The examinations can be uncomfortable, to put it mildly.
The options confusing.
The apprehension can be paralizing.
If you have surgery, although minimally invasive like mine, it can be painful.
Recovery can be humbling.
But in the end, knowing that you have dealt with it can be extremely liberating.
When I was talking with a friend's husband yesterday about having the examination, he claimed to have had a check up, although he couldn't rememeber when he had the last one. And then began talking about his faith and his view that he has to die with something. And while I have to admit that I still have work to do to improve my lifestyle and health outcomes, its important that we do not use our faith as an excuse to not take care of ourselves.
Although a man of faith, I am appreciative of the fact that regular examinations and medical technology put me in a position where I didn't have to feel entirely out of control, nor did I have to approach my health care with resignation. There are some things we must experience, but we can be proactive, educated and generous with one another about our outcomes and outlook. This doesn't take the place of the prayers and, what I am certain is, the Grace of God, which saw me and my family through an extremely challenging time.
So I want to encourage men to have their exams. And if you are a woman reading this, encourage the men in your life to have their exams. To not do so means that some of us place ourselves and our loved ones at incredible physical and emotional risk.
The facts are sobering:
One in every 38 men, 40-59 will contract this disease. For those who are 60+ the odds increase to 1 in 15. African-American men are more than 60% likely to develop prostate cancer than our Caucasian brothers and more than twice as likely to die from it. If you have a relative - father, brother or son who have had the disease, you need to be particularly proactive and if more than two of your relatives have had it, even moreso because you are nearly four times as likely to be diagnosed.
You can find more information at the Prostate Cancer Foundation website: http://www.prostatecancerfoundation.org/
It's no fun going through the process. But it's great being a survivor!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
I have to confess that it was a long time before I understood the minimum wage to be a controversial subject. As a matter of fact, I considered the minimum wage to be, well, matter of fact! It was a few years ago that I found out that there are sectors of the populace who are either against significant increases in the minimum wage, and some who are against the idea of a minimum wage altogether.
At the risk of oversimplifying the argument, the basic objection can be summed up in four words: the sky will fall! Increases in the minimum wage are viewed as yet another step towards the end of western civilization. Small businesses will suffer. Adult wage earners will suffer. Families will suffer. And then we all will suffer some type of economic nuclear winter and our continent will fall of the face of the Earth.
Of course I’m kidding. But given some of the fears that some people express, you wonder how the country has survived. Prior to the increase in 2007 from $5.15 to $5.85, the last raise for the low income wage earner was in 1998!
Minimum wage workers hardly constitute an army poised to invade the ranks of the middle class. At $5.85 a full time worker made $10,712 annually and still fell almost 40% below the poverty line even when factoring in the earned income tax credit! By 2009, the increase to $7.25 will bring a family of two above the poverty line, but a family of three would still fall 18% below the poverty line. This is particularly important when you begin to count how many people are classified as poor in America.
The official count of those who fell below the poverty line in 2006 was 12%. But recent research using recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences places the number significantly higher at almost 18%. That’s 16 million more people than in the ‘official’ count (you can check out the recommended process at http://www.bls.gov/ore/abstract/ec/ec080030.htm).
That’s important because a major argument against the rise in the minimum wage is that it would make it increasingly more difficult for youth who need these low wage jobs. In reality, most minimum wage workers are adults who support families. Or at least try to! Adults make up the largest share of workers benefitting from this minimum wage increase: 79% of workers whose wages would be raised by the increase to $7.25 by 2009 are adults (age 20 or older). And 53% of those workers work full time.
Last month’s reported national unemployment rate of 5.5 % (which doesn’t count those who are unemployed and stopped looking), doesn’t include a devastating underemployed rate – those working part time who would rather work full time – which is at 9.9%.
I guess the point is minimum wage, while an important and necessary first step isn’t the answer. We need to be talking about a living wage and while also providing some level of relief for those employers who provide it.
Starting last year Congress corrected the longest period of federal wage inaction in nearly 40 years. If we can’t figure out how to do more it can be argued that it has been too little too late.
Obviously we must fix a broken economy, but that fix must not exclude the American worker and bring wages line with the needs of the American family.
For more information, visit the Economic Policy Institute’s website: http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/issueguides_minwage_minwagefacts.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I resisted writing one simply because it has been different for me to answer that question. Larry James is already writing a serious and substantive chronicle consisting of personal reflection, advocacy and the promotion of our work at Central Dallas Ministries. I enjoy reading it and it has a very wide readership. Larry's one of the smartest men I know and he is far too modest to promote himself as one of our foremost passionate and progressive thinkers and actors.
I have the unusual opportunity to share my experience and reflections in a monthly column in the Dallas Morning News. I enjoy the challenge and I hope to not only advocate for change, but also stimulate public conversation around some issues from a perspective that is not often given voice in Dallas' 'official' daily.
But that is monthly. And things happen and important events occur that are usually past a monthly news cycle. There are also things that happen in our community that don't make in our local daily newspaper, television or radio broadcasts or even regular private dialogue. And there are differing public perspectives that I think are important, and for better or for worse, I'd like to provide, what I hope will be as substantive a view as Larry provides.
So what will this blog be about? Obviously advocacy from a public policy standpoint. But I've found out that what influences public policy convesation stems from virutally every influence on the thinking of the advocate: the places you've been, the people you know, the positions you've held and the experiences you've had. The first entry, for instance, was a reaction to the news that the American Medical Association admitted that for one century, racism had been reflected in their policies and activities. Go figure! Yet at the same time it was accompanied by an apology and a stated attempt to correct this wrong. I felt compelled to write because there are so many whites who believe that contemporary and historic grievances of African-Americans - and other minorities - seem to be imaginary. Some sort of societal paranoia that we experience because we've either read too much, watched too much T.V. or listened to too many of the wrong people. Here is an official admission of their complicity in an American tragedy and apology. It's significant, but it seemed to fly under the radar of most mainstream press. So forgive me if it wasn't very well written. It was my first attempt at a public, unedited statement and I'm learning.
What I hope to do is to share with you my understanding and reflections on how we must address issues of poverty from a public policy standpoint. But, I have almost 25 years as a pastor in the inner city and the flap over Jeremiah Wright shows that the public doesn't understand the Black Church or Black culture and community. Central Dallas Ministries is doing great work and it would take every program director we have to tell you about all of it. That may not (or may, who knows!) be possible. I'd like to share with you what I'm learning from the PDs I supervise.
I'll also post links to my monthly columns as well as to those of columnists I like to read or find interesting. So I guess it won't be that different from other blogs, but I hope those who read it find it interesting. I hope you'll respond and I hope you'll share with me the resources that shape your thinking as well.
Its a new world and the public conversation and debate we have - even in cyberspace can help us understand one another better and hopefully provoke us all to an engagement which can make our world better.
Monday, July 14, 2008
I'm grateful for this page.
We should use it as a tool for putting forward new ideas and challenges. We must do better as a people by all of our people.
Join us in the conversation!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Imagine that: The AMA makes an explicit admission, that for 100 years, African-American doctors were either purposely barred from admission, their concerns for the medical care for their people were marginalized by the larger organization. Collaterally it means that all other aspects of health disparity, including health care access, were not shown the seriousness they deserved.
What did that mean for 100 years? How much of what we know now about health care and the African American community could have been prevented? Consider these facts:
The prevalence of diabetes among African Americans is about 70% higher than among white Americans.
Infant mortality rates are twice as high for African Americans as for white Americans.
What if more Black students had been steered toward the study of medicine as a profession to care for Black patients so that they would have doctors with whom they could identify and who knew the culture of our community - the fears, the apprehensions and superstitions regarding medicine.
The 5-year survival rate for cancer among African Americans diagnosed for 1986-1992 was about 44%, compared with 59% for white Americans.
Its not to say that some white doctors and doctors of other races and ethnicities were not sensitive, but to have a doctor that looked like you could have made helped make revolutionary strides in health outcomes in the Black community. And the AMA has admitted it.
To their credit, the AMA has done more than make the admission, they are taking steps to correct their error. Outreach among young African Americans to encourage them to think about careers in medicine. "The AMA is committed to improving its relationship with minority physicians and to increasing the ranks of minority physicians so that the workforce accurately represents the diversity of America’s patients." says AMA Immediate-Past President, Dr. Ronald M. Davis.
But this is not just about the AMA. If this is true about an association of physicians, what other areas of our society is it true about. What about political parties? What about labor unions? What about main stream denominations? What about Fortune 500 companies? All of those organizations and constituences from whom there have been no apologies and from whom none are forthcoming and from whom no intentional corrective is even being offered?
Neither the admission, or the apology from the American Medical Association can erase 100 years of damage. But it provides a legitimate starting point for beginning again. But more importantly, for those who say that issues of poverty, racism, substandard education and blighted communities, marginalization and suffering are a part of some collective victim complex, it says that it's not in our head, its not in our imagination.
It's real. And we as a country can never seriously move forward until it is admitted and until there is some serious effort to make amends. A people who've experienced oppression can understand falling short of perfection in that regard, but what has always been hard to deal with is the idea that our experience is a figment of our imagination.
Here's the link for the AMA press release: