An older brother came out his coat on me a few days ago. No…that’s not a metaphor or a euphemism. I mean that literally: he sat upright, eyes bulged out and exclaimed, “I take offense to that, now,” as he ripped off his coat! All this at a conference for the Church. #MercyLord
This week, I’ve been at the New Communities Conference for the Episcopal Church at Kanuga Retreat Center in Hendersonville, NC. We’re here to discuss issues of race and reconciliation…finding ways forward for ethnic communities. Native Americans, Blacks, Asians and Hispanics are all gathered here. To her credit, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Shori (the top Bishop of the Episcopal Church) has been here listening throughout the duration.
That said, we had a breakaway session for our respective ethnic groups. In the “Black meeting” we sat in a circle and put out ideas for moving our particular people forward. As we shared ideas, I noticed a common thread: we need someone (or some entity) at the table, to advocate on our behalf.
Having spent years in DC Politics, I understand a thing or two. Effective advocacy requires either numbers, money or both. Having both is the best vantage point.
In the spirit of Absolom Jones (the father of Black Episcopalians), there was founded an organization named the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE). Being mentored by a few past presidents of the Union, I’m quite aware of its contributions of the past and it’s potential value for the future. Yet, as with most Black Organizations, after the golden years of Black Activism the Union of Black Episcopalians has become a shell of its former self.
Now, you understand why that man jumped out his coat at me!
Black Organizations have become sacred cows. You can’t critique them. Even if their irrelevance is obvious, you must pretend as if it is still the glorious organization of yesteryear. No wonder we can’t get ahead.
We are so caught up in nostalgia that we cannot get out of the past. We are stuck there: remembering what was and holding on to it, as if it were really still here. Then we smack down young adults because they see the reality…and when those young professionals decide there are better things to do with their time than waste them on nostalgia, leaders of Black Organizations always condemn the youth for “apathy.”
But what is true?
The reality is Black Organizations don’t have the same gravitas they once had. Although the President, the Attorney General, 42 Members of Congress and three US Senators are Black, Black Organizations aren’t able to communicate an agenda and move that agenda into reality.
This same unfortunate reality is true in the Episcopal Church as well. Much like the United States, the Episcopal Church has a bi-cameral legislature: the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Anything that is to happen in the Church, happens through passage of legislation. So just as there is a need for interest groups in Federal Government, there is also a need for interests groups in the Church.
Who will ensure that budgetary cuts do not disproportionately affect Blacks and other minorities? Who will push the institutional Church to address institutional racism and societal disparities that might remain unseen?
If it is true that we must be the change we want to see in the world (and it is), then how can we look anywhere but to a failing of ourselves in the stagnation of progress?
Now, I realize my youthful zeal. I also understand that I need to find ways to communicate with the old guard so they are assured that I value their contributions. Many have fought hard and those fights must be honored. And the best way to honor those fights is to see their value not just in history, but in the present and the future.
To his credit, the brother who wanted to fight me came and apologized. I forgave. We reconciled. He realized he had reacted without listening. And I appreciate his saying that.
Our elders must learn to hear youth without visceral reactions. At the same time, we youth must learn how to communicate the truth in ways that still honor the contributions of those who have gone before.
The fight isn’t over. And to continue the fight, our organizations must change! Our organizations must be revitalized and reinvigorated. The harsh reality is that our organizations have become irrelevant to young adults.
When I attend Anti-Racism meetings in Central Florida, I’m the only attendee under 60. When I attend UBE meetings in Central Florida, I am the only attendee under 60. If this is the reality, what will become of the important work left to do?
But all around us testifies to the important work left to do in Racial Justice and Reconciliation. The outcome of the trials for the murderers of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin scream of this. The New Jim Crow and the School to Prison Pipeline scream of this. Lack of services on and care for Native reservations, Immigration reform, the tone towards anything from President Obama, the wide range of social and economic disparity, and a host of other matters bear witness to the need for racial justice and reconciliation.
Yet, in order to do that work we need strong organizations to represent the various groups. So, although I faced the ire of the old guard I still remain steadfast. We must reinvigorate our Black organizations – to include the Union of Black Episcopalians, to ensure that we are effective in the cause of true racial justice and reconciliation. If not, we will only end up with the appearance of reconciliation. And that can’t be good for anyone…can it?
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