Black History, Police Body Cameras and the Urgency of Now

February 23, 2015 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

(Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, this Black History Month is an occasion to reflect on the necessity of arming the police with body cameras.

As recent history has painfully taught us, there is an urgent need to dispel all ambiguity surrounding the murder of black males by local law enforcement. Police body cameras are not a panacea for this problem, but they may help.

The ostensible lessons gleaned last year from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are that their deaths were more than separate, unrelated incidents.

Their deaths are apart of a historical pattern, which citizens within black communities have for decades called systemic “police brutality.” Their murders illustrate the truism that a protracted season of disregard for black life continues and that “death-by-cop” is too often a testament of the longstanding tension and racial resentment between white police officers and black males–especially young African-American males in the inner cities.

Racial animosity will take a longtime to dissipate in America, but for now practical responses and new policies are needed on how the police engage black men.

This is why Segun Iduwo wants his day in Boston court–and, if necessary, he’ll gladly take jail time.

The Mattapan minister was arrested last November during a rally outside the Suffolk County jail in Roxbury. He and hundreds were protesting the historical plight of black men as part the national reaction sparked by the Ferguson, MO grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Iduwo says he was standing silently at the “Black Lives Matter” protest when he was “singled out” by state police and arrested.

“They just came directly to me and handcuffed me. As far as I know they didn’t arrest anybody else.”

Still in his early 20s, Idowu, who is black, possesses a strong sense of history and a clear understanding of how civil disobedience, civic engagement and direct protest action can accelerate change. A product of the Boston Latin Academy, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He has also attended, until recently, Boston University’s School of Theology.

Iduwo acknowledges he was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct,” for protesting “the wrongs done to black men” and says he is willing to answer to the charges.

In the meantime, he has been pressing Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Williams Evans to equip each Boston police officer with a body camera, believing they will deter police misconduct. Along with Shekia Scott, Iduwo co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team last August.

A 2014 ACLU study reported the Boston police department’s practice of “stop-and frisk” disproportionately impacts young black males. Some have argued that “stop-and-frisk” is a harassment tool. So, keeping a police video record of those encounters makes sense and may save lives.

Legislation was recently filed by Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey to equip police officers with body cameras. Yancey said the cameras will “protect” patrol officers as much they will document how citizens interact with the police.

Late last year President Barack Obama wisely dedicated 75 million in grants for local police departments to purchase body camera equipment. Boston has yet to apply for funding.

“Not only do we want body cameras on officers but we also understand that policy must go with it … We call ourselves the cradle of democracy and we are the most progressive city in the nation. So if we are going to be progressive, then we ought to be one of the first major city all of its police officers uniformed with body cameras.”

Sometimes history is the result of winning small, mundane battles that most never notice. Often black historical advances were won on the local level–in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s smallest hamlets–where change was seemingly unconnected to larger, unfolding events.

Iduwo is a fresh voice who deserves attention for his principled stance and wiliness to go to jail.

He is also one of Boston’s youthful examples of how black history can be engaged by anyone at anytime if the moral intentions are right and if the price for advancement is willing to be paid.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The views expressed are those of the author.

Why The ‘Selma’ Soundtrack Deserves An Oscar

February 22, 2015 at 9:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 9.12.22 AMGuest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

Selma is powerful, provocative, conversation starter on race relations in our nation. While pundits and critics focus on the portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and others bemoan the lack of awards, don’t sleep on the music!

Selma offers the perfect soundtrack to not only make the screenplay come to life but to make history live again. The partnership of Music Director Morgan Rhodes and Director Ava DuVernay is not a new one (In 2012 they teamed up on DuVernay’s Sundance Award Winner, Middle of Nowhere and in 2013 they completed a short, The Door), but with Selma they made a timeless treasure.

Any attempt to chronicle the diverse lives of black folks, and others, must rely on the right music, stitched and weaved together, the right way. Within the black experience, whether historical or contemporary, music is never simply a background. Music is the foreground and it matters!

During the civil rights movement music provided the esprit de corps. Music kept thousands of individuals and families motived, encouraged and inspired to keep their “eyes on the prize.” The music of the movement set the pulse, stabilized the cadence and amplified the rhythm of masses of people into one combined force for change. DuVernay and Rhodes understood this and executed in impressive fashion.

The soundscape of Selma brilliantly balances tone and texture in order to empower the many voices of the people of the movement and not just the leaders. In this chronicle of a three-month journey, the music elevates the voices of women in a way that offers an enlightened correction to the often male-dominated depiction of the movement. We hear the voices of Sister Gertrude Morgan, Martha Bass, Sarah Vaughn and Odetta as we witness the priceless contributions of Amelia Boynton, Annie Lee Cooper, Diane Nash and of course, Coretta Scott King.

As curator, Rhodes demonstrates a sonic journey that includes folk, blues, jazz, gospel, funk, R&B, Black improvisational music, Hip Hop and new compositions by Jason Moran. Yes, Jason Moran!

The soundtrack offers not only a demonstration of the diversity of ideas, thoughts and voices within the movement but it also offers an informed notion that music is both sound and text. In moments where there were powerful verbal exchanges or pivotal speeches, there is a courageous amount of musical silence. Music is not merely the presence of sound but the negotiation of sound and silence.

It is in the music that the most comprehensive notion of resistance is heard and felt. From the opening silence, to the cacophonous explosion to the “voice of God” (phenomenally performed by Ledisi) to well calibrated excerpts of Otis Redding, The Impressions, Joyce & Johnita Collins, Fink, The Staple Singers, the Soul Stirrers, The Orions, William Attoway & Irving Burgie, McCoy Tyner and Yusef Lateef. What an amazing collection of differing voices with a wide range of approaches towards voicing the same goal of fighting for freedom.

Rhodes’ inclusion of J.B. Lenoir, Duane Eddy and Seabell Kennedy proves that she can crate dig with the best! A true testament to her sincerity, sensitivity and savvy was the inclusion of the actual field recordings of the Selma demonstrators recorded in 1965 by Carl Benkert and released on Moses Asch’s Folkways Records as Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama (FH 5594).

Yet, the most powerful contribution is Common and John Legend’s protest anthem, “Glory.” The opus has already earned a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Academy Award. More important than accolades, though, is that the three-minute inspirational hit connects the events of Selma to the movement in Ferguson challenging all to understand that the struggle continues and must be fought until the war is over and victory is won.

Don’t sleep on the music of Selma, for it is the music that best connects generations, cultures, ethnicities, spiritual beliefs and races towards the pursuit of equality and justice for all. The music highlights the “drama” that Dr. King taught and modeled as a strategy for justice-based civil disobedience. It is in the music that we are challenged to “negotiate, demonstrate and resist!”

Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor and associate professor of Music at Northeastern University’s School of Music. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

A Road Map Beyond Black History Month

February 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bb_flag_1_6_2012Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Black History Month (which kicked off on Feb. 1) became a national annual observance in 1926. The goal of the month is to honor and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans.

If Dr. Carter Woodson, the Father of Black History, were alive today, he would be proud of the tenacity of the African American community. It speaks volumes about our survival here on this American soil, after centuries of slavery, decades of lynching and years of racial profiling.

However, for decades now, Black History Month has not broached the topic of the socio-political construction of white privilege.

There’s a reason why.

During Black History Month in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder received scathing criticism for his speech on race. His critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational and accusatory.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Many communities of color contest that white people—straight or LGBTQ—show no real invested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race. While many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence, so too does their cultural fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

It’s a polemic that has been avoided because of the politics of political correctness as well as how any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—a rabid racist, the president or Attorney General Eric Holder—invariably inflame our emotions more that inform our faculties.

Ironically, or tragically, the aversion to a conversation about race not only continues to harm people of color, but it also harms whites as well.

In her recent book “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” Cambridge author Debby Irving’s wrote the following:

“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving….Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.”

On one hand we have the dominate culture’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue platforms which thwart coalition building with communities of color. On the other we have some people of color dismissing the notion that white marginalized and struggling groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor) may have something to offer communities of color in terms of advice and shared (not same) experiences.

Both hands are right. And both hands are wrong. The only way forward it to keep talking about race. But how do we make our way through the current tangle of misguided good intentions and valid suspicions?

My answer: past harms need to be redressed.

For example, the killing of unarmed black males has awakened the movement. “Black Lives Matter” has taken to the streets.

Sadly, civil rights struggles in this country—black, women, and gay—have primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent of each other. But that is a false assumption.

When we look at how we moved forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ activists remember that an African-American woman named Mildred Loving set the precedent for marriage equality. Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Her crime was this country’s once racial and gender obsession—interracial marriage. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s ‘Racial Integrity Act of 1924.’

For many years I taught a college-level course titled “Power and Privilege,” exploring how many of our stereotypes about people whom we perceive as being different invades our lives without much conscious deliberation on our part. Issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others, were considered, and how such distinctions often lead to an inequitable distribution of political power, social well-being, and the resources available to individual members of society.

On the syllabus I laid out the rules regarding classroom interaction:
1. We will address our colleagues in our classroom by name.
2. We will listen to one another—patiently, carefully—assuming that each one of us is always doing the best that s/he can. We will speak thoughtfully. We will speak in the first person.
3. Although our disagreements may be vigorous, they will not be conducted in a win-lose manner. We will take care that all participants are given the opportunity to engage in the conversation.
4. We will own our assumptions, our conclusions, and their implications. We will be open to another’s intellectual growth and change.
5. We cannot be blamed for misinformation. We have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
6. We each have an obligation to actively combat stereotypes so that we can begin to eradicate the biases which prevent us from envisioning the well being of us all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, 2015, in what is clearly not the post-racial era many had hoped for, I wish as a nation we begin an honest talk about race.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the power of righteous anger

January 18, 2015 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Kevin C. Peterson

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend its difficult to say exactly what he would be angry about. But he’d be angry.

Yes, it’s accurate to describe King as an “apostle of love” because of the gospel of non-violence he preached. King obsessively sought the “beloved community” which was rooted in his commitment to peace and pacifism.

He would say: “Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.”

If he were alive today, King would be 86–a lion in winter ignored by most. A national holiday would not exist in his name. The glow from the great marches and the noble pursuits he followed would be faded national memories.

But King would likely still be on fire: He would be disappointed by the state of the nation on race relations. He would oppose our U.S. foreign policy that relies so heavily on drone strikes. And he would decry our country’s uneven economy that has resulted in a class crisis and a bloated oligarchy.

During this weekend’s reflections on King, many will evoke his famous “I Have A Dream” speech where he evoked the grandeur President Lincoln and wrapped the aspiration of the American people around symbols of fairness, opportunities and the hope that the present generation of black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ironically, if he was alive today, King would reject such historical romanticizing on a speech he made decades ago.

He would point to the irony that 50 years after the struggle in Selma for voting rights–where Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Roxbury (Boston, MA), was murdered– there are ongoing battles across the South where voter ID laws and redistricting suppress the electoral power of blacks and the poor.

King would certainly oppose the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He would evoke the spirit of “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe.” But more than this, he would challenge — with exacting moral authority — the remaining vestiges of institutionalized racism that grip our society.

Perhaps King’s most lasting legacy was his criticism of the persistent “evils” which continue to plague American progress.

In 1967 he said: “I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism.”

For all his preaching about peace, King’s passion–his smoldering anger about injustice–would be as apt today as it was when he walked the streets of America.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s expansive dream

January 18, 2015 at 9:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Screen shot 2015-01-18 at 9.44.14 AM

Guest opinion by Rev. Irene Monroe

Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is January 15th, and I believe if MLK were alive today he would be well pleased with Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma.”

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and what he achieved in Selma. But I believe King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King’s statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community. We fail to see how King’s vision of inclusion and community is far wider that we might have once imagined. And his vision always included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job, in keeping King’s dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. The structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.
In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King’s teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world. And our differences have been used to divide us instead of uniting us, so consequently we reside in a society were human brokenness, human isolation and human betrayal are played out every day.

I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism – not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
We are foolish if we think we can heal the world and not ourselves. And we delude ourselves if we think that King was only talking about the woundedness of institutional racism, and not the personal wounds we all carry as human beings.

Ironically, our culture of woundedness and victimization has bonded us together in brokenness. The sharing of worlds to depict and honor our pain has created a new language of intimacy, a bonding ritual that allows us to talk across and among our pains. In exploring our common wounds, we sometimes feel more able to find the trust and the understanding that eludes us as “healthy” people.
When we bond in these unhealthy ways we miss opportunities in ourselves for moral leadership, and to work collaboratively with others to effect change in seemingly small ways that eventually lead to big outcomes.

Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were leaders in the Montgomery bus boycott in challenging Alabama’s Jim Crow laws. Both were working together for a desired outcome, and they could not have done it without the other.

Had Rosa Parks not sat down by refusing her seat to a white man that day on the bus in December 1955, King could not have gotten up to promulgate a social gospel, which catapulted the civil rights movement.

Each year, I mark the Martin Luther King holiday by re-examining myself in light of King’s teachings. And in so doing, I try to uncover not only the ways in which the world breaks me, but also how it breaks other people. That keeps us fractured instead of united toward a common goal – a multicultural democracy.

I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.

Our job, therefore, in keeping King’s dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

I’m Mad as Hell… and Thankful

December 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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(Photo - Associated Press)

(Photo – Associated Press)

Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

I’m mad as hell!

Regardless which side of the street you stand on there are no winners in Ferguson.
Just a glimpse at ongoing news coverage, or a peek at the comment sections of online sources reveal rage- both black and white – concerning Michael Brown Jr.’s death.

This rage is often articulated through the lens of “ LEO” – law enforcement officer – supporters or critics. Unfortunately, most of these polarized jousts neglect to consider that not all LEOs are white. And, these stinging jabs, often from anonymous commenters, do not capture the emotions of the huge number of quiet sympathizers – those whose hearts continue to be heavy with the realities faced by so many families of the courageous women and men who don uniforms and take the oath to “never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust.”

Yet, with Brown lying four and a half hours in the hot August sun…I’m mad as hell.

Ferguson is no longer a dot on the Greater St. Louis area map; it is now a national landmark of injustice akin to Tulsa Riots, 1921, Watts Riots, 1965, and Bloody Sunday, 1965). Though rarely given adequate coverage in schools, these volatile moments in United States history transformed the national landscape. Ferguson, like Tulsa, Watts, Selma, has sparked a national conversation that is felt deeply in the hearts and minds of us all- sympathizes, separatists, loyalists, compassionists, activists, self-selective non-participants and everyone in between. Ferguson challenges our national commitment to growing a democracy that works for everyone.

But, where do we begin?

In the spirit of gratitude and social justice – I believe we need to be whole-heartedly invested in listening to the voices of young people.

And I am thankful that the surrogate children of Dr. King’s children – in all hues, ethnicities, nationalities, gender expressions – are joining hands as they sacrifice themselves in order to call for justice to extend its embrace around everyone – not just the entitled and privileged.

I am thankful that this young generation chose to use this clarion call to bridge social divides, class partitions and political platforms in order to be contemporary champions of freedom. These young people don’t see Michael Brown, Jr. or Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice or Dillon McGee or Cameron Tillman or Laquan McDonald, to name just a few of the young black unarmed men killed as their sons or nephews – they are their brothers!

I am inspired by this generation of freedom fighters who refuse to let the legacies of Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers die. And as Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and Sweet Honey in the Rock said it best “we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.”

I’m thankful for all the young people who have retained the spirit of ethical discontent and righteous indignation through the use of civil disobedience. From the metropolitan streets to suburban driveways and on to remote rural places, our nations’ young people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. From sit-ins to mass marches to taking over interstate highways to writing the digital translations of these stories that are now flowing through various channels of social media, these millennials, who have previously been labeled a selfish generation, are using their voices to call for a change.

I am not a fan of violence. I am not a supporter of looting, destruction of private or public property and I do not condone or support any of this deviant behavior. Despite media presentations, the majority of the protests across the country have been peaceful, respectful and meaningful.

No matter how mad I am, I am also Thankful!

Young People, thank you for your courage to prove that hope lives! Thank you for reminding us all that #BlackLivesMatter!

Emmett PriceEmmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

(The views expressed are solely those of the author.)

Is civil rights leadership on the sidelines?

December 11, 2014 at 11:46 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Marching in center city the Ferguson protestors on South Broad at City Hall, Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo / The Philadelphia Daily News, Steven M. Falk )

Marching in center city the Ferguson protestors on South Broad at City Hall, Philadelphia, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo / The Philadelphia Daily News, Steven M. Falk )

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

PHILADELPHIA, PA –Its not clear that this generation of civil rights leaders can win this one.

Thousands of defiant marchers protested across the nation this weekend where hundreds lay prostrate in the streets whispering “I can’t breathe.”

The chant has become almost ubiquitous since a Staten Island grand jury refused to indict a white police officer for the death of Eric Garner last July. The protests–some riotous–have also been in response to the death of Michael Brown, victim of a similar “death-by-police” scenario.

Here in the “City of Brotherly Love,” emotions and racial discontent continue to smolder, reflecting a duality of perspective as revealed in national polling results released over the weekend about race and law enforcement.

A Bloomberg Politics poll reveals a growing racial cleavage: While 64% of white respondents agreed with the Ferguson, Mo. ruling where a grand jury refused to indict a white officer accused of killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, 71% of African-Americans strongly disagreed with the decision.

A CBS/Marist poll reported that: “By more than two-to-one, African Americans are more likely than whites to say law enforcement applies different standards to whites and blacks.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton is calling for a “March on Washington” this weekend to bring a civil rights focus on the justice system.

But will Sharpton’s agitation help? More profoundly, has the efficacy of the civil rights coalition abated? Can it produce the efforts won in Montgomery, Birmingham or Selma?

“For the first time we are having a [civil rights] movement that is not really being led by the [black] church,” said the Rev. Alyn Waller to 4,000 worshipers at Philadelphia’s Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Sunday. “And quite frankly the church is not really out in front of this like we could and should be. And this could be the reason that the fight is not there.”

In the meantime, President Barack Obama offers protesters and the nation the anemic solution of “time.”

Monday night he told BET: “When you are dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society you got to have vigilance but you have to recognize that its going to take some time and you have to be steady.”

The president’s comments fall flat five decades after the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued against the brand of systemic racism clearly visible in Ferguson and Staten Island.

If he were present, King would push Obama to make bolder statements about the justice system and the plight of black men. King would chide the president’s hesitancy on forming stronger national policies on race and the law. King would urge Obama to embrace the activism on the streets to galvanize public opinion.

King would say what he uttered in the 1960s: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior director at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston and is founder of the New Democracy Coalition.

 

 

(The views expressed in the editorial are those of the author.)

World AIDS Day and my community’s ongoing struggle

December 10, 2014 at 10:54 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day!

President Obama conveyed hopeful remarks on World AIDS Day at George Washington University (GWU) in D.C. by vowing to continue efforts to combat the disease.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been to achieving the extraordinary: an AIDS-free generation,” Obama stated to the GWU audience. “But we’ve got to keep fighting, all of us. Governments, businesses, foundations, community groups, and individuals like you.”

In 2012, the United Nations stated that it’s possible to eradicate the disease by 2015 — in part, of course, by preventing new infections.

But, much of the focus was, and still is, on developing countries, and not on hot spots like the nation’s capital, which is one of the hardest hit areas battling the epidemic

In 2006 at the “Women and Response to AIDS” panel at the conference, Sheila Johnson, founder of the Crump-Johnson Foundation in Washington D.C., pointed out that another at-risk population in the African-American community is teenage girls.

Seventeen percent of the U.S. teen population is African American, with 70 percent of black teens testing HIV-positive. One in 10 African-American teenage girls test HIV-positive in the nation’s capital, the highest percentage in the country among this age group.

When asked why such a high percentage test positive, Johnson said, “As long as girls see themselves as glorified sex objects in hip-hop videos, HIV/AIDS will increase within this population.” In 2014 little has changed within this demographic group.

And sadly, with African Americans at younger and younger ages being infected with the AIDS virus, the life expectancy rate of African Americans will decline. Soon we will no longer expect today’s young African-Americans to become the elders of the community.

With the South’s propensity to avoid speaking about uncomfortable subjects unfortunately the South has evolved into one of HIV/AIDS hot spots in the country.

Each year, fewer and fewer public events are being held to bring public attention that the epidemic is still in our midst. This year, PBS’s “Frontline” didn’t run its special “ENDGAME: AIDS in Black America.” To date more than a quarter of African Americans have died of AIDS.

With the latest comprehensive data tracking the virus coming out of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the numbers are staggeringly alarming.

Although African American comprise of now nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population, we tragically account for approximately 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. But this data doesn’t reflect the wave of recent African diasporic immigrants of the last decade coming from the Caribbean Islands and the Motherland. This demographic group is overwhelmingly underreported and underserved—for fear of not only deportation but also of homophobic insults and assaults from their communities.

According to the CDC in 2010, 1 in 22 African Americans will be diagnosed HIV-positive in their lifetime. And, it’s the leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 25-34 and African American men between the ages of 35-44. Good news is that HIV infections among African American women only in Massachusetts has decreased for the first time. And this decline in numbers has much to do with the indefatigable outreach by local organizations like AIDs Action Committee while operating each year on a diminishing state funded grant.

According to the Black AIDS Institute’s August 2008 report titled “Left Behind” the number of people living with HIV in Black America exceeds the HIV population in seven of the fifteen focus countries in the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative, an initiative helping to save the lives of those suffering from HIV/AIDS around the world in countries like Haiti, Dominican Republic, India, South Africa, to name a few.

In other words, if black America were its own country, standing on its own like Haiti or Nigeria, black Americans would rate 16th with the epidemic in the world. The epidemic is heavily concentrated in urban enclaves like Detroit, New York, Newark, Washington, D.C and the Deep South.

There are many persistent social and economic factors contributing to the high rates of the epidemic in the African American community—racism, poverty, health care disparity, violence, to name just a few—but the biggest attitudinal factor still contributing to the epidemic and showing no sign of abating is homophobia.

While we know that the epidemic moves along the fault lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation, and that HIV transmission is tied to specific high-risk behaviors that are not exclusive to any one sexual orientation, homophobia still continues to be one of the major barriers to ending the AIDS epidemic.

Although famous HIV-positive heterosexual African Americans, like tennis great Arthur Ashe, news anchorman Max Robinson, and rapper Eazy-E all died of AIDS, and basketball giant Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is still living with the virus, highlight the fact that anyone can contract the virus, many still see the epidemic as a “white gay disease,” suggesting being gay or having sex with someone of the same gender puts you immediately at high risk.

But the truth is this: while over 600,000 African Americans are now living with HIV, and as many 30,000 newly infected each year, there is still within the black community at least one in five living with HIV and unaware of their infection; and, they are disproportionately heterosexuals.

While the number of cases across the globe will continue to decline and possibly eradicate the disease as the U.N hopefully predicts, we as African Americans we’ll not protect ourselves from this epidemic as long as we continue to think of HIV/AIDS as a gay disease.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Menino: an ally to Black LGBTQ communities

November 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s (shown marching in the 2012 Boston Pride Parade) response to Cathy’s comments nonetheless, shows the reality of a country divided by religion and basic civil human rights.  Photo by: Don Harney/City of Boston

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (shown marching in the 2012 Boston Pride Parade)
Photo by: Don Harney/City of Boston

 

Thomas Menino was inarguably one of the best mayors the city of Boston ever had.

As Boston said farewell to its longest-serving mayor, the city also celebrated the life, career, and integrity of a great public servant. As mayor to “all the people” of Boston—African American LGBTQ communities felt heard, respected and represented during his administration.

For example, every year Mayor Tom Menino’s Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events put on its annual Boston GospelFest at City Hall Plaza. And because the Gospelfest is a public and taxpayer-funded community event, it’s opened to all- even its African American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities.

For many in the African American—both in the LGBTQ and straight Christian communities—excitedly await Boston’s annual Gospelfest. Gospelfest brings together huge gatherings of black church-going Christians across Greater Boston and across denominational affiliations in fellowship with one another.

While for many African American heterosexual Christians, Gospelfest is a second worship service for them for the day because it’s always held on a Sunday, for many African American LGBTQ Christians, Gospelfest is our only worship service for the year.

Because there are so few welcoming African American in Greater Boston, Gospelfest affords many of us in our black LGBTQ communities a sweet moment—as unabashedly Christians and unapologetically queers—in corporate worship and celebration with our faith communities in an inclusive and public space.

In 2010 a public outcry ensued concerning that year’s GospelFest megastar Pastor Donnie McClurkin. McClurkin—the poster boy for African American ex-gay ministries who spews anti-gay religion-based vitriol—was billed as the main event. That year, many in the African American LGBTQ communities stayed home, and so did the mayor.

Menino thoughtful absence from the event sent shock waves throughout the African American church communities, and sent a powerful message.

This protest, however, wasn’t Menino’s first time skipping an event because it excluded a segment of Boston’s LGBTQ population.

Menino was possibly the most pro -LGBTQ mayor in the country. He refused to participate in the traditional South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade when organizers barred an LGBTQ group from marching, and he told the Chick-fil-A franchise that the city of Boston will not tolerate discrimination against its LGBTQ citizens. Always an advocate for marriage equality, Menino has thrown his weight around and has used his power on behalf of LGBTQ civil rights, and have succeeded in doing so.

However, when it came to moving Boston’s black ministers on LGBTQ civil rights, Menino’s struggle was much like that of other elected officials and queer activists—immovable. And, he knew many of Boston’s black ministers were in lock step with black homophobic clerics across the country.

Menino’s absence from that year’s Gospelfest was another sad example of how Boston’s black ministers—an influential and powerful political voting bloc of the mayor’s—would rather compromise its decade-long friendship with City Hall than denounce McClurkin’s appearance.

And while Boston’s black ministers’ support of McClurkin’s appearance
put the mayor between a rock and a hard place with its LGBTQ and African American communities, it also puts Menino in a difficult spot with his African American LGBTQ communities. But Menino didn’t falter or renege on his allegiance to our civil rights.

Greater Boston’s African American LGBTQ communities, however, had wished the mayor’s office had contacted someone from our communities in their vetting of McClurkin.

Ms. Julie Burns, the Director of Arts, Tourism & Special Events for the Mayor’s Office came late to knowing about McClurkin’s anti-gay rhetoric. When Burns called me about the McClurkin kerfuffle with the Gospelfest just weeks away she was apologetic.

“I learned yesterday—through the (Boston) Phoenix article regarding the City of Boston Gospel Fest—of the depth and breath of Donnie McClurkin’s views on the Gay community. I am embarrassed to say that I was not aware of this and we obviously should have vetted him further. Gospel Fest is in its 10th year and is arguably the largest Gospel event in New England. Minister McClurkin was recommended to us by a number of people and we were swayed by his artistic honors. Of course, this does not excuse the situation that we now find ourselves in! Please rest assured that Mayor Menino did not know anything about this and would never condone ‘hate speech’ of any kind,” Burns wrote in an email to me.

During the AIDs epidemic Menino stood by the entire community.

For example in 2001, Mayor Menino raised money to help pay for a liver transplant for Belynda Dunn, 49, an AIDS activist living with HIV and hepatitis C.

As an African American heterosexual woman, Dunn was the wake-up call to the African American community and the Black Church that HIV/AIDS is not solely a gay disease but instead it’s an equal opportunity virus.

When the color of the epidemic shifted from white to black, the inherent gender bias focused only on the needs of African-American men and rendered women invisible. And when gender became a new lens to track the epidemic, white women were the focus.

The feminization of this disease made many of us AIDS activists and scholars wonder if the same amount of money, concern, communication, and moral outrage that was put into white gay men with the disease would be put into curbing its spread among black women.

The disparities within the healthcare system contribute to the disproportionately higher number of HIV cases among African-American women, which directly affects their quality of life and the spread of HIV.

Dunn had been denied payment for a transplant by her health insurer because of her HIV status. But Menino stepped in, announcing at a press conference at the Boston Living Center that his staff would “explore fund-raising options.” Menino raised an additional $175,000 Dunn needed to pay for her transplant.

Menino attended every Boston AIDS Walk except one during his tenure. And at every Walk his message was the same: “I stand with you; I care about you; I serve as mayor to all the people.”

And he did.

As LGBTQ Americans we all should be represented by elected officials like Menino.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Confronting echoes of the AIDS hysteria as we battle Ebola

October 22, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ebola virus

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Exactly a decade ago this month I received an email flagged as urgent from Monrovia, Liberia. It was from Lee Johnson, then coordinator of “Liberian Youths Against HIV/AIDS.”

“Presently, the HIV/AIDS scourge is deeply eating into the fabric of our society and there is little being done to bring this to a halt. Therefore, some of us youths have come together to be able to bring awareness to our fellow youths on the danger of HIV/AIDS and other STD’s. But, at present, we are not receiving much from the locals and that is why we have decided to get in contact with you,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson wanted to know if the US knew how the HIV/AIDS epidemic was ravaging his city and countryside; and if the US knew how possibly could his distant cousins of the Diaspora-African Americans-and his queer allies-LGBTQ Americans-simply be silent and not act.

By 2012 the US is on record for contributing nearly $200 million devoted to stemming AIDS and malaria in Liberia. Only then did the county begin seeing a decline in the epidemics.

Since December 2013 Liberia, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, cried out to the world community for help in fighting the deadliest outbreak of the Ebola epidemic to date. By this summer’s end the death toll per day from the virus in those West African countries was staggering to the point of disbelief – with a projected rate of 1,0000 new cases each week in two months according to the World Health Organization.

In September Shoana Solomon, a photographer and TV presenter, and her daughter excitedly arrived in the US from Monrovia just in time for Solomon’s nine year old to start school.

“You’re from Liberia, so you have a disease,” was what the nine year-old heard as a greeting.

The unrelenting tenacity of the Ebola virus – like HIV/AIDS- has taught us much about the preciousness of life, and about the various faces -across race, class and gender, country and continent -who wore and continue to wear the face of this disease.

But since September 30, when Thomas Eric Duncan became the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the states and subsequently died of the virus, West Africans, specifically Liberians have been the target of unimaginable stigmatization and untold discrimination.

The hysteria and paranoia associated with Ebola is eerily reminiscent of when the country was in its AIDS crisis.

When the New York Native, a now-defunct gay paper, in its May 18, 1981, issue first reported on a virus among gay men that was known then as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), an editorial made it known that “even if the disease first become apparent in gay men, it is not just ‘a gay disease.’”

Hysteria coupled with homophobia reared their ugly heads and targeted gay men across the country. Now, perhaps because we are decades removed, we can recognize this as an act of intolerance and inhospitality toward the ill.

With the AIDS epidemic also came the emergence of the Christian Right, which propagandized the moment as a providential sign of God’s abhorrence for LGBTQ people. But with no help from the Christian Right, President Ronald Reagan, who saw the first signs of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, his first year in office, had his own theological view on the AIDS epidemic that influenced the laissez-faire attitude his administration exhibited. Reagan said, “Maybe the Lord brought down the plague because illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments.”

In seeing the inherent value and goodness in every person’s life, 16th century English poet John Donne once said “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

However, with the theological belief that God’s will was indeed being done, Reagan unflinchingly watched the death toll climbed to over 41,000 deaths and over 60,000 diagnoses of full-blown AIDS before he spoke up about it in March 1987.

For the Christian Right, it was a just way to exterminate us instead of making us wear pink triangles in a German concentration camp. And for others, tagging us was a more acceptable way of monitoring. In 1986, for example, Sen. William F. Buckley Jr., believing in a need to track who was inflected with the virus in order to stop its spread, suggested that people with AIDS be tattooed on their buttocks and forearms.

The “God is angry” explanation for the Ebola epidemic is the same misguided theological response given about the Haiti Earthquake, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and for that matter any disaster since the biblical Genesis flood narrative.

When doors and hearts are shut to people in need out of fear that is an act of inhospitality.

There has been much debate about tighter border controls to keep out not only the Ebola virus from jeopardizing any more of American healthcare workers, but West Africans, too. And there has also been some bantering about keeping a closer eye on those who look West African. And, good luck with that xenophobic measure since those of us who are the progeny of the Transatlantic Slave Trade are from West Africa.

While hysteria paints a picture that America is in the throes of an Ebola epidemic no American to date has died of the virus. Five, however, have contracted the virus in West Africa and returned home to the states- Dr. Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Rick Sacra, Ashoka Mukpo, and an unnamed American.

We are now too often hearing the numbers of those dying or dead from this disease and unfortunately do not fully comprehend the magnitude of how lives are continually being lost in West Africa or stigmatize for being West African here.

This is not only an unconscionable act of xenophobia toward the targeted groups believed to test positive for Ebola, but it is also a symptom of a sick society that tests negative for compassion.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

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