Monday, April 22, 2013

Slices of Life that Touch the Heart

I love these little vignettes that I catch from time to time on PBS! They are true slices of different lives that touch the heart. Here's hoping they touch yours! I'll share more from time to time...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Adventure of Calling

Today is my 37th anniversary of my first sermon! I thought I would repost this account of that Sunday night, at the Shady Grove Baptist Church. I wrote this a couple of years ago, but I'm feeling a little nostalgic and thought I'd share it again. Hope you enjoy it. It's been quite an adventure indeed!


It's been 35 years since I preached my first sermon on a spring night at the church my grandfather's church.

It was the culmination of a search for purpose and direction with which I had preoccupied since the age of 15. It was the start of the journey that has led me to where I am now.

 For me and some of my African-American junior high classmates, after we were bused from the familiar and comfortable environs of our neighborhood school in Hamilton Park to schools in Richardson, Texas, school desegregation triggered in us, a desire in for a deeper understanding of our cultural identity. There were no classes in 'black history' or 'minority studies'. So we took it upon ourselves to understand our own history with an enthusiasm and hunger we might not have had if we remained at and graduated from our old school. We checked out what books there were in a library inadequately stocked with books on Black history. We poured through our parents subscriptions of periodicals (Ebony, Jet, Sepia magazines) and we even bought our own books. We talked about those events and the news and, in my case, became more and more interested in the role of the church in our lives. It was that exploration that awakened in me a desire to make some contribution to my people's history.

But it was more than cultural and historical awareness that led me to the pulpit. The church had dominated my life. The message of the Gospel gave me a significance that transcended color and culture, but at the same time, the church and the Gospel were inextricably tied to the life of my people in this country. So childlike understanding of what God's Love grew into an obsession of what I should be doing for God and for my people. The answer to that question evolved into what our religious tradition refers to as my 'call' to the ministry.

That night, more than three decades ago, still has more emotional claim on me beyond what I am capable to adequately express.

The actual acknowledgement of that call came years later, when, at the age of 18,  I told my grandfather, Rev. L.J. Batty (who was convalescing from surgery and still in the hospital), that I wanted to be a preacher.  I actually thought he didn't hear me. Grandpapa, was short in stature, no more than 5'4, but was a giant to all of us. By 1975 he had been pastor of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church for 46 years (he would continue as pastor for another 23 years!). He was a formidable figure in our family and in our church community. But he was a loving, devoted husband, father and grandfather and my admiration and respect for him was unbounded. I would later tell my father whose reaction was a little more enthusiastic.

Rev. L.J. Batty
When my grandfather got out of the hospital and resumed preaching, I publicly acknowledged by desire to become a minister. I came down the aisle after the sermon that Sunday morning (Palm Sunday, if I remember it correctly) much in the same way people who express their desire to join church do. I had told my parents, but didn't tell them when I would do this. It was comfortable for me to do this in the church where I had spent virtually all of my life. And no one was particularly surprised, although there was both excitement and encouragement from nearly everyone in the church. My grandfather and the church voted (as was the tradition at that time) to license me to preach pending my delivery of my first Sunday. Later that week at my Grandpapa's house, he asked me when I thought I could be ready. April 20, was the date I chose. No particular reason. It was about three weeks away and it seemed to be enough time. I would deliver my first sermon on Sunday night (again, it was church tradition, rarely did anyone ever preach a first sermon on a Sunday morning in those days. Not even the pastor's grandson!).

My preparation, at that time, was prayerfully trying to choose and make sense of a text I felt led to select. As a senior in high school, I knew how to research papers for English class, not formal sermons. But growing up in church I had heard countless messages preached and I thought I could at least follow the pattern to which I had become accustomed.

I had committed to prepare an actual manuscript. That meant, for me, handwriting the sermon and then typing it. I took several days to carefully write it out and then I went to my father's house to type it on his electric typewriter.

I decided to put together the type of manuscript I had seen my father use. For the most part, I had always seen my grandfather use handwritten notes. Occasionally, when used manuscripts, he did so using the 'hunt and peck' method on an OLD manual typewriter. Amazingly, he (and my father), not only typed their sermons and lessons, but each Sunday's bulletin and various reports for church business meetings.

Rev. Gerald Britt, Sr. 
My father nearly always preached from a full manuscript. He would use six half sheets of paper which he typed on vertically. The night I went to his house to type my manuscript he set my margins for me (I knew how to type - some - I had a semester of typing. But, as I tell people, my B+ in that class had more to do with the fact that the teacher was the wife of the principal and I was an all district varsity football player!).

He left the room and then returned periodically to see how I was doing. As the evening wore on, he returned more frequently. At some point he said, 'Let me see if I can help you out...' I wasn't struggling. I think he just wanted to see what I was going to preach!

As we went through the sermon, he pointed out some areas that needed polishing. And at one point told me something I never forgot. There were points in the sermon where I wrote 'You...' as in 'you should do this...' 'You need to change...' 'You need to do that...' 'Always use 'we' not 'you', he instructed, '...Never set yourself above the people that way. Always let them know that you share their condition'.

April 20 arrived, I arrived at the church about a little after the scheduled time of 7:30. Shady Grove seats maybe about 200 people and, the normal Sunday night attendance occasionally may have been 35-50 people. It was full on this night. I walked in and went to my grandfather's office: a small room off west side of the building that, at most had room for 5-6 people. It was a place in which I had always been welcome. I would come in and browse through Grandpapa's books. He never scolded me for looking at his mail, or the denominational newsletters and papers he had scattered on his desk. I was always enthralled by the posters he had on the wall: revival meeting posters, district calendars and the like. I was always in awe of the pictures of area pastors that were on those posters. They were photos of austere looking men, staring imperiously into the camera lens. To me, they had always been imposing and important men with great responsibility. This night, I looked at those pictures a little differently...I was, I thought, about to become one of them!

For the most part, I waited in his office by myself. Looking over the manuscript. Praying. Listening to the hymns and the prayers that you could hear easily from my grandfather's office. My uncle, a member of the church who had recently married my aunt and had turned down my grandfather's offer to be trained as a deacon because it was too much responsibility, came back and talked with me. After a little while he said, 'You be a good one, ya' hear?' I nodded and assured him I would try. Not quite a year later, Uncle Clarence would acknowledge his call to the ministry.He he served a church in east Texas for a short while and for at least 30 years has been pastor of the historic Hopewell Baptist Church in Dennison, Texas!

I left the sanctuary after reading a verse of scripture I had recently discovered in the book of Jeremiah, 'Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee saith the Lord'. I uttered a prayer and took the short walk through the door of the office, across the narrow hall through the door that leads to the sanctuary, almost directly into the pulpit. I heard the low murmurings of 'amen' from a nearly standing room only sanctuary, into a pulpit that was filled with preachers. Grandpapa had allowed me to sit in the pulpit for a couple of weeks to get used to being up there, but this was different. When I stepped into the pulpit I had only expected my grandfather and my father to be there. But there were men, whom I had known, pastors, who were friends of my grandfather and father, that I'd never have imagined taking the time to be present. They are all gone now, but I will never forget them for being there: The Smith brothers: Revs. Calvin and L.C., pastors of the Mt. Rose and Love Chapel Baptist Churches, respectively, both former members of Shady Grove; Rev. Palmer Rayford, my grandfather's longtime associate minister; Rev. Donnie Bogandy, my father's associate minister; Rev. Governor Thompson, another pastor and former member of Shady Grove, along with, of course, my father and my grandfather.

The youth choir, of which I was still president, sung that night and after I took my seat, they sung their final number. Then my grandfather got up to talk about the occasion and introduced my father, who presented me. Then my aunt (Uncle Clarence's wife) played the piano, my mother the organ for the song that traditionally precedes the sermon and I stood and approached the pulpit for the very first time. I allowed myself to take in the moment. I looked out into the faces of relatives, fellow church members - most of whom had been surrogate aunts and uncles throughout my life. Members of my father's church. Members of other churches with whom Shady Grove and Memorial Baptist Church's had fellowship. There were classmates, friends with whom I had grown up, co-workers from my part-time job at Presbyterian Hospital and...others. I tried not to be overwhelmed. And to calm myself after the congregation was seated after the hymn, I began, what would be my custom for the next several years, I read I Corinthians 13...'Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal...'
For years afterward, I would recite this as an introduction to my messages. While there are those who would impute some deeper meaning to this, it was my love of this scripture and the fact that it calmed my nerves as much as anything that were the reasons I employed these verses.

After this, I launched into my message. The subject: 'Why Does Man Need God?'. The scripture text was Mark 5:1-20. The theme of the message was that man needs God because without him, man travels a path of self destruction.

I wish I had some funny anecdote or some humorous incident that took place that night. Actually, the sermon event itself passed without incident or accident. With as much passion as I knew to employ, I read the manuscript I had prepared. The message was received enthusiastically. The pastors in the pulpit, when they had their remarks after I was done, commended me on my poise and publicly counseled me to remain faithful to God. My father and grandfather were proud, as were the other members of my family. My grandfather called for a vote by the members of Shady Grove to license me to preach the Gospel. This, in our denomination, is the first credentials a minister receives prior to ordination. A motion was made, seconded and the church unanimously voiced their approval. We received a collection, there were announcements and a few more remarks, was allowed to give the benediction and it was over.

And, 'it' began...

Later that evening, I got in my 1969 Mercury Montego, and sat there for just a few minutes, trying to get my head and heart around all that had happened. I uttered a prayer, asking the Lord to create in me a passion to be better. And then I said, 'I don't know where You want me to go from here. I know where I want to go. I don't know what you want me to do. But wherever I go, please take me there by preaching...' Although I'm sure I didn't fully understand what I meant, over the years, I can say God has honored and answered that prayer again and again.

In about five weeks, I would graduate from L.V. Berkner High School. That fall, I would enroll at Bishop College to study for the ministry. In 1982 I would be ordained and assume the pastorate of the New Mount Moriah Baptist Church and this incredible journey continued along a new and exciting pathway. I continue along that pathway still...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Can't Just Teach the Good Kids

I'll be writing more about Texas State Senator John Carona's Senate Bill SB1247 (crafted to regulate payday lending) later. There's another bill making it's way through the state legislature that deserves attention as well.

An editorial in yesterday's Dallas Morning News focuses on Senator Royce West's SB393.
"The bill would require schools to adopt a tiered system to address acting out and rules violations, starting with in-school behavior modification and work with parents and community-based programs. Serious criminal behavior would still end up in court."

There is a problem in Texas schools in general and Dallas ISD schools in particular, with an emphasis on discipline which takes students out of the classroom, and discipline which takes minorities - particularly black students - out of the classroom. 

"One sad irony of the avalanche of citations, according to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, is that there is no evidence that the huge expense in court costs has paid off with better-behaved students. Thus the justice system is left with clogged dockets, while schools absolve themselves of dealing with students whose “crimes” might be breaking the dress code or cutting up in class."
"The statistics on discipline in Texas schools are stunning. A study released in 2011 by the Council of State Governments and Texas A&M University tracked every seventh-grader in the state over three years. Almost 60 percent of them received at least one disciplinary action, with 15 percent expelled or suspended 11 times or more. Black students were disproportionately singled out, in a documented trend called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”"
I mentioned as much in my February column in the DMN...
"...Texas Appleseed’s latest update to its “School to Prison Pipeline” series. This report includes an analysis of the number of student citations and arrests in more than 40 school districts statewide, including DISD."
"Of DISD’s 156,000 students, citations were issued at a rate of 24.6 per thousand. Black students represent 25 percent of the district’s student population, but accounted for 56 percent of the students ticketed and 46 percent of the arrests in the district. Yet national studies, like the one by the National Education Policy Center, show black students more often singled out for such discipline for offenses that allow for discretion and judgment calls by teachers and administrators."
"The 2011 “Breaking Schools’ Rules” report, which looked at the disproportion in school discipline policy, followed more than 900,000 Texas students from the seventh to the 12th grade. Among its conclusions: Disciplinary actions that keep students out of the classroom can have long-term negative consequences. Ten percent of the students with disciplinary referrals dropped out, while 31 percent repeated at least one grade."
Many argue that the 'good students' deserve to learn in an atmosphere free of distractions. And of course that's true. But the fact of the matter is, all of life should be free of negative distractions. Every teacher should have a classroom of 'good students' eager to learn. But that's not real life. I served as pastor of a church for over two decades. I couldn't only serve 'the good members', the cooperative ones, the undemanding ones, the ones who never caused any trouble and always exhibited Christian behavior. I had to serve them all as best I could. 
Students who engage in actual criminal behavior, should meet with severe punishment and discipline - including expulsion and juvenile detention. But students who 'act up' need an education too. Teachers who don't know how to, must learn how to discipline these students as well. Of course it's not easy. But are we asking students to come to school already excised of behaviors and attitudes common to virtually every child or youth? Are we to only have classrooms full of 'good students' while we segregate and stigmatize 'the bad students' by placing them all in 'alternative schools'. 
Again, from my column..."Real education is more than subject mastery; it’s also self-mastery and socialization. Most students don’t arrive on campus programmed to grasp all three easily. The answer isn't  for those students to be forced out of the classroom or school."
School is not just where students learn math, history and science. School is where students learn how to respect others and themselves, how to work in groups, how to think and how to learn. Some say these are lessons they should learn at home. Teachers then have the opportunity to teach well behaved children who are only ready to receive knowledge. But for most of us who are honest, we received those lessons at home and church, and we still had to have them reinforced in the classroom. 
And what of those 'bad kids'? Think of the class clown in your school. How did he/she turn out? For many of us, some turned out better than we did. Some are great parents and spouses. A surprising number grew up to be great employees, business owners, soldiers or even politicians. And a great many of them owe their success to a teacher somewhere who believed in them - even when they deserved to be put out of the classroom. 
A teacher who taught them along with 'the good students'...What are we doing?

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Great Day in America

Today is the 66th anniversary of Jackie Roberson's breaking the color line in professional baseball. It is always touching to hear baseball fans, particularly black Americans talk about what that day meant to them. If you are my age and younger, it is one of those 'firsts' for our country that we really can't relate to in a way that captures the emotion of what this day in 1947 must have held for those who had been locked out of America's Great Game almost since it's inception. But the commemoration of that day - that event - is made special when you see every player in Major League Baseball wearing '42' in Jackie Roberson's honor!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

'We Have Not Forgotten' - and I Hope We Never Do!

Earlier today I participated in a powerful service. It was a prayer vigil, the theme of which was 'We Have Not Forgotten'. Hosted by Northaven United Methodist Church and its wonderful pastor Eric Folkerth, it was an interfaith service in which faith leaders from across Dallas came together to pray for our country in light of the gun violence of which we've all become so acutely aware since Newtown. 

I've had a number of requests for the printed text of the prayer I offered, so I thought I'd post it here for easy access. Thanks to Eric for the invitation to be a part of such a moving worship experience!

Let us pray for our country!


Heavenly Father,

We come in deep adoration of your Majesty and Awesome Power.

We come in Wonder of your Splendor and Glory.

We come Dear Father, in the awareness of your complete Sovereignty and your Creative Genius.

We come confessing Lord that all too often, we, your people, have been embarrassingly silent in the face of gross hypocrisy, crass reasoning, and insensitivity to one another’s suffering and indifferent to our obligation to make a difference in our world.

We have allowed the noise of irrational people to drown out our voices as we give out faint echoes for love, justice, non-violence and compassion in our country.

Lord, because some of the most irrational and insensitive voices are our coworkers, our neighbors, our relatives and friends; we have chosen their acceptance over our obligation to proclaim what is right and what Honors you. We have allowed them to intimidate us into silence and in hushed tones; we have spoken meekly about Your Will and timidly declared Your Word.

We fail to educate our children, consigning them to lives of poverty, and then we blame them for growing up frustrated and angry.

We call the exploitation of the poor ‘commerce’ and protect the perpetrators of exploitation as though they were victims.

Lord we have reached a point where we are declaring our right to own killing machines is more important than the demand for any civilized society to protect its young, it’s vulnerable and it’s innocent.

Lord, we have decided to take more and more money out of mental health care, and then claim that the mass gun violence is not caused by the proliferation of killing machines, but the mentally ill.

Lord, we are substituting real relationships with social media and forms of entertainment and recreation that separate us from one another and reinforce our loneliness and isolation. And then we claim that isolation, social media, entertainment and recreation are more to blame for mass murder and violence than killing machines.

Lord, we have seen violence associated with killing machines cut down our greatest politicians, statesmen and women, our youth and our children, and still we have no appetite for peace.

We have seen what these killing machines have done to our soldiers in battle and what using them has done to their psyche,  yet we as civilians brag about and spend millions of dollars to protect our rights to own them.

We thank you Father, that You for your ability to make all things right. We thank You for Your Love and Mercy and Grace. Thank You for infusing some of us with the courage to say ‘This is not right!’ Thank You Lord for giving some of us the faith that we can correct the problems that we have ourselves created.

This week Lord, as our politicians deliberate laws that will help restore some sense life’s desire for Peace, that you will let them reflect the hearts of right thinking Americans everywhere. Break the hardest of hearts that would prioritize our ‘rights’ to own instruments of violence, over our responsibility to protect our children, our neighbors, their parents and our fellow citizens.

Speed up the day, our God, when neighbor shall no longer lift up sword against neighbor; when we beat our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks and our killing machines into relics of a less sane time. Speed up the time when we study violence no more.

This is our prayer, a privilege You have Authorized. We pray it in your Name and for the sake of You’re creation.


Friday, April 12, 2013

The Internet: What Would We Do Without It?

When it works, I sometimes joke with my friends that technology is the best thing God ever made. When it doesn't work, I tell my friends that technology is of the devil!

It's interesting how far we've come in so very short a time. When I began writing op-ed pieces for the Dallas Morning News, for instance, I typed them on an IBM electric typewriter (a 'selectric'?!). I then faxed the finished copy to the editor of the editorial page. I then called to let him know that I was sending it. I either type it in the body of an email or attach it to an email. 

The difference? The Internet!

It's hard to believe that, at one time we had to do without it. 

I'm not sure what this advance has cost us. It appears we are less communicative, more isolated (in our offices, we are guilty of sending emails that could be equally, if not more convenient conversations). Our purchasing habits have changed. The way we are entertained is different. Financial transactions are made faster (take a picture of a check? REALLY?!!). 
And the young people I know - especially my 13 year old granddaughter - would rather text than talk. 

What makes this possible? The Internet!

Watch the video. See what it was like before technology was as advanced as it has become. Twenty years ago, we barely know what it was. Now we can scarcely dream of a world without it!

Thanks to Britton Peele for this article in (Dallas Morning News). Read it tell me: is technology really a godsend? Or is it of the devil?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Race, Class and Poverty - We're Still Working to Overcome

We have recently commemorated the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This conversation between Bill Moyers, Union Theological Seminary professor James Cone, reknown for his work in black liberation theology. Also appearing is historian, author and chronicler of King's life and the Civil Rights Movement, Taylor Branch, reminds us of how far we have come since the King years...and how far we have to go...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Removing the Stigma: A Brave Disclosure About Depression

The news this weekend that mega church pastor Rick Warren's son Matthew, committed suicide was unnerving and sad.

Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and best selling author, was wonderfully transparent in his grief, disclosing that Matthew had been battling depression for more than 10 years.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly 15 million Americans suffer from major depressive disorder. More than 90 percent of those with depressive disorders (as well as suffering from substance abuse) commit suicide.

Whatever the most charitable responses to Matthew Warren's death, we should all react with compassion and great humility. The tragedy being experienced by the Warren family, is familiar to millions of Americans. All too often church leaders, clergy and lay leaders alike, are ill equipped to deal with this issue in our congregations and the lack of funding to provide adequate mental health care means that mental illness is going undiagnosed and untreated.No community, no family is left untouched.

That makes this recent post even more relevant...


Jacquielynn Floyd is a very talented columnist for the Dallas Morning News. Last week, she wrote a very brave column about her personal battle with depression.

"It belabors the obvious to say I wouldn’t be writing this if I were dead."

"What occasionally unnerves me, with a sharp jolt of recollection, is how close a thing that is."

"Had either of two long-ago suicide attempts been successful, I would never have married, traveled, had a career, known half my family. To the other half, I would be a memory that could not be summoned without pain."

"The prospect of missing so much, and of inflicting so much grief, is dreadful to contemplate. Thank God I did not create permanent and irreversible damage.
This was an early chapter in what, on the whole, has since been a satisfying and interesting life."

"It’s blessedly easy to forget the painful, paralyzing effects of depression and the chaos it created in my head. Why dwell on something that hurt so much?
Yet it has been on my mind lately. Recently, this newspaper, along with KERA and Mayor Mike Rawlings, called for a comprehensive discussion about young people and mental health issues."

"A public symposium, “Erasing the Stigma: Mental Illness and the Search for Solutions,” will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the City Performance Hall."

"It crossed my mind again last week, when I attended a luncheon for an organization that honors the memory of a bright, gifted young Dallas man who was unable to see how much unrevealed promise his own life held. A victim of suicide, he died at 19."

The rest of the column can be read here.

Conversations about gun control, gun safety, our violent society, poverty and homelessness, as well as health care, must also include substantive conversations about mental health care. They are hard conversations to have, because they make us uncomfortable. But they are also conversations without which, we are a less safe, less compassionate society.

When friends of mine: prominent business and religious leaders, church members and health care professionals, have revealed that they, or their family members have suffered from depression or other mental health illnesses, it has always reinforced the fact that it can happen to anyone. We get that cancer, diabetes, a broken bone or heart problems can happen to us. We don't like to think that we may someday be in need of mental health care because the stigma attached to it.

It's time for us to end that stigma...

Thanks Jacquielynn for a very courageous disclosure. Now, if we will only listen...

The Atlanta Cheating Scandal - Enough Blame to Go Around

I'm usually loathe to refer to any transgression as 'unpardonable'. But on that short list, one 'unpardonable' sin, if you will, is compromising the prospects of children. This is why, if true, I have little to no sympathy for the 35 Atlanta, Georgia teachers, principals and administrators accused of falsifying test results.

I say 'little' because I have to take into account that there is a national culpability in allowing an atmosphere in which education and test taking have become so conflated, that they are nearly indistinguishable from one another. The straw argument that 'we have to have some standard of accountability', suggests that we cannot know whether or not teachers are teaching, students are achieving, schools are effective academic institutions, without a standardized test. What we are producing are some adults, who, in order to keep their jobs will teach students to pass those tests, even if it kills them (the students)...or sends them (the teachers) to jail.

"A Fulton County grand jury last week indicted 35 educators from the district, including principals, teachers and testing coordinators. They were ordered to turn themselves in by Tuesday, District Attorney Paul Howard said."

"By 10:00 p.m., 27 of 35 educators had turned themselves in at the Fulton County Jail to face charges including racketeering, theft by taking and making false statements about their roles in an alleged plot to falsify students' standardized tests. Eight of them had been released on bond late Tuesday, the Fulton County Sheriff's office said."

"In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which at the time said her "leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform.""

The scandal did not start with a, or even a few, renegade principals or teachers seeking to guarantee themselves bonuses. It started at the top...

"Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system."

""She was a full participant in that conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges."

""Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place.""

"The indictment follows a state investigation that was launched after a series of reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained gains in test scores in some Atlanta schools."

"A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal."

What is happening in Atlanta is a warning to the rest of the nation when it comes to public education. Standardized tests are neither new or undesirable tools for measuring progress or assessing accountability. But we have perverted their purpose. Public education, particularly in Texas, has divorced academic achievement from culture and enrichment. Experiential and project based learning is being sacrificed. Imagination and creativity is being ignored and education as means through which children learn disciplines associated with social responsibility and interaction, self-discipline and critical thinking is being given short shrift. 

Politicians and the standardized test industry, have placed such downward pressure on those responsible for education in our state and across the country, that test outcomes are touted as the sumum bonum of academic achievement - without regard to whether or not 'achieving students' can read, write, work a math problem, know science or history, or are prepared for college, work or the military. 

Standardized tests now determine what is or isn't a desirable neighborhood. They determine whether or not businesses will relocate or even stay in a particular area. They now determine not only present but future patterns of neighborhood interaction with the criminal justice system. 

These Atlanta teachers, allegedly not only succumb to that pressure, they capitulated to the system. They, if guilty, surrendered the lofty aims of their profession in order to protect themselves at the expense of the children they were charged to educate. We cannot know what that will cost these children - or the rest of us. 

In the words of a friend of mine, teachers and principals who insist on finding ways to educate their students, along with students and their family who persist in being educated in this climate, are incredibly heroic, particularly those in poor neighborhoods. 

Public schools are democratic institutions. We should protect them from the chicanery foisted upon them by our politicians and the testing industry. The abyss they will drive us into will be a deep and dark one. If we continue to let it happen, we will all be guilty. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Free Angela Davis...

April 21, will mark my 37th year in the ministry (technically, April 20th was the date of the Sunday I preached my first sermon).

As an 18 year old, that event can be considered the culmination of my search for purpose for my life. I knew that I wanted to serve God by serving people. I was particularly concerned with the plight of black Americans, and before I finally yielded to the call to enter the preaching ministry, I sought to understand mid 1970's America, the cauldron of race relations, poverty, politics and faith and how it meshed as best I could.

I didn't have any formal discussions with my parents or grandfather (who was also my pastor), I - well I kind of took off exploring on my own. I read. I watched documentaries on the Civil Rights Movement and read periodicals from that period, going back nearly 15 years. I memorized the names and contributions of the leaders and sought to put it in context.

And I also attended lectures. One of which was a lecture by Angela Davis.

Angela Davis was a young university professor, intellectual and stood trial for 13 weeks charged with buying guns for her lover, George Jackson, one of the Soledad Brothers, in a failed prison escape that resulted in the death of four people, including a federal judge.

She was acquitted, but Angela Davis became an icon for the black liberation struggle in the '70's.

The most I knew about Davis at the time was that she was controversial. She was a revolutionary and that she represented what was an important figure in contemporary black history.

Now there is a documentary about Angela Davis that premiered April 5th and is on my must see list! 'Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners' by Shola Lynch,  is a chance to revisit that point in history and to rediscover Davis' importance. It will also be interesting to revisit period which represents a curious irony between how citizen dissent was viewed when expressed by minorities and. how it is viewed when it is expressed by whites today. Unfortunately Dallas isn't listed among the theater's where its being shown currently, but I'll get to see it somehow.

Here's hoping you take advantage of the opportunity to see it as well...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

This Story Inspires...

Stories about redemption inspire me. Not just those that I get to share in personally, but those that simply let you see good happening in the lives of others. To me, its a reminder that wrong things are made right even when we don't know about them.

Take the case of Brian Banks, for instance.

Ten years ago, Banks, a young high school football player whose talent promised to be a bright line to NFL stardom, was accused and convicted on kidnapping and rape charges. Banks served more than five years in prison and was out on parole, when the truth of what he had been trying to prove for all these many years, was substantiated - he is innocent.

"Wanetta Gibson was 15 and Banks was 16 when they went to the “makeout spot” at Polytechnic High in Long Beach. He was also a 6-4, 225-pound linebacker being recruited by USC and other top football programs."
"The teenagers fooled around as teenagers do. But they did not have sex. Then they returned to class."
"“By the end of the day,” Banks said, “I was in custody.”"
"Football recruiters suddenly stopped calling, though that was the least of Banks’ worries. He faced up to 41 years in prison. Prosecutors offered a plea deal that would get him out in five."
"Even though there was no DNA evidence, Banks’ attorney advised him not to take the chance of staying in prison until he was 57 years old."
"“She told me I was a big black teenager,” he said, “and no jury would believe anything I said.”"
"Banks spent five years and two months in prison. He had another five years on probation. Banks had to register as a sex offender and wear an ankle monitor."

Gibson, contacted Brian on Facebook while he was on parole, subsequently she confessed that she had lied, and that she wanted to help him, but was afraid she'd have to return the $1.5 million she received as a settlement based on the crime she accused Banks of committing. 
Banks met with Wanetta, although she wouldn't meet with prosecutors, and recorded her confession. He, in turn took the recording to attorneys at the California Innocence Project, who took his case and back to the judge who presided over the original trial. The judge declared Brian Banks innocent. 
Clearly that's good news. But there's more...
Banks whose scholarship to University of Southern California was lost because of his conviction, missed out on what by all accounts would have been a promising college career. After that, pro football seemed to be a foregone conclusion. That dream appeared to have died with his ordeal. 
Well, not quite. 

"Banks, 27, signed with the Falcons on Wednesday, giving him an opportunity he said he did not believe would be possible when he spent five years in prison and five years on probation following his conviction of rape and kidnapping charges a decade ago."
""I felt at the time in order for me to exit prison with a sane mind and be able to just function as a person I had to let go of certain dreams and goals I once held in life, football being one of them," Banks said."
"Banks said he "couldn't have asked for a better place to be" than with the Falcons."
""I can't believe this is happening," he said. "It's surreal.""
Banks calls it 'surreal'. I call it truly inspirational!