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.)

Friday News & Notes: November 2, 2012

November 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Editor: Valerie Linson

M. Gertrude Godvin School, Walnut Avenue, Roxbury, MA circa 19th century. The building is currently the home of the National Center of Afro American Artists.
(City of Boston Archives, via Flickr)

 

The Cleveland Uppercut, Lil Reese and camera phone savagery
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines.com, October 29, 2012
In my neck of the online woods, two violent camera phone videos have been making the rounds and sparking disturbing reactions about if and when it’s OK for a man to strike a black woman.

The first video, popularly known as “The Uppercut,” shows a Cleveland bus driver later identified as Artis Hughes, 59, arguing with passenger Shi’dea Lane, 25, for several stops. Witnesses claim that Lane struck and spit on Hughes, provoking the 22-year employee to punch the woman in her face and physically throw her off the bus. When an unseen passenger screams, “That’s a female,” Hughes retorts, “I don’t care! She want to be a man? I’ma treat you like a man.” Hughes has been suspended and charged with assault.
Read more…

National Civil Rights Museum to open balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot
Agence France Presse, November 2, 2012

The motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 is being opened to the public, a spokeswoman said Friday.

It is the first time that visitors to the erstwhile Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, will be able to stand on the very spot outside Room 306 where King was gunned down by sniper James Earl Ray.
Read more…

The African American debate on voting rights
Jamila Aisha Brown, Guardian.uk.com, September 25, 2012

Not voting in the age of Obama has become almost a taboo subject among African Americans. After record black voter turnout helped elect the nation’s first black president in 2008, the decision not to vote is regarded by many as an affront to the ancestors who died and activists who bled to exercise this right.

They are not worth the color if they don’t vote. They oughta give us their color back. Their African-American credentials should be snatched if they don’t vote,” proclaimed an impassioned Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Democrat, Missouri) in his address to the 42nd annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation before the “voting rights and new age discrimination” panel.
Read more…

Small Wonders: Winning images from Nikon’s 2012 Small World Photo Micrography Competition
Washington Post, November 2, 2012
Read more…

Yes, you can criticize Obama and not be racist
Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, October 31, 2012
I’ve long argued that Obama’s most ardent supporters should not ascribe racial motives to the president’s critics when none exist. Doing so undermines their argument and the ability to call out real racism — explicit and implicit — when it happens. And at the height of the tea party movement, I made a point of separating those who had genuine concerns about the direction of the country and its mounting debt from the right-wing extremists who latched onto the conservative movement.
Read more…

 

One of the tallest trees in our forest

March 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

This month around the country LGBTQ communities will be celebrating Bayard Rustin’s 100th birthday anniversary. Next month, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts will have their annual Bayard Rustin Breakfast. And, last month, “State of the Re:Union,” a nationally aired radio show distributed by NPR and PRX was awarded first place in the Excellence in Radio category from the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association for the Black History Month special they did on Bayard Rustin, titled “Bayard Rustin – Who Is This Man?”

Bayard Rustin

To date, he’s still largely an unknown because of the heterosexism that has canonized the history of last century’s black civil rights movement.

Born March 17, 1912 in the Quaker-settled area of West Chester Pennsylvania, one of the stops on the Underground Railroad, is Bayard Rustin’s beginning. A handsome six-footer who possessed both athletic and academic prowess is most noted as the strategist and chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington that catapulted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King onto a world stage. Rustin also played a key role in helping King develop the strategy of nonviolence in the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), which successfully dismantled the long-standing Jim Crow ordinance of segregated seating on public conveyances in Alabama.

One of my favorite quotes by Rustin is this: “When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” For LGBTQ African Americans Rustin is the only open gay hero we have, and for many of us his work and words give us courage to fight homophobia in ourselves and in our communities.

In a letter to a friend explaining his predilection toward gay sex Rustin wrote, “I must pray, trust, experience, dream, hope and all else possible until I know clearly in my own mind and spirit that I have failed to become heterosexual, if I must fail, not because of a faint heart, or for lack of confidence in my true self, or for pride, or for emotional instability, or for moral lethargy, or any other character fault, but rather, because I come to see after the most complete searching that the best for me lies elsewhere.”

During the Civil Rights movement Bayard Rustin was always the man behind the scene, and a large part of that had to due with the fact that he was gay. As Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers and friend of Rustin stated in a review on Jervis Anderson’s biography Bayard Rustin: The Troubles I’ve Seen that Rustin “…was the quintessential outsider—a black man, a Quaker, a one-time pacifist, a political, social dissident, and a homosexual.”

Many African American ministers involved in the Civil Rights movement would have nothing to do with Rustin, and spread rumors throughout the movement that King was gay because of his close friendship with Rustin.

In a spring 1987 interview with Rustin in Open Hands, a resource for ministries affirming the diversity of human sexuality, Rustin recalls that difficult period quite vividly. Rustin stated, “Martin Luther King, with whom I worked very closely, became very distressed when a number of the ministers working for him wanted him to dismiss me from his staff because of my homosexuality. Martin set up a committee to discover what he should do. They said that, despite the fact that I had contributed tremendously to the organization…they thought I should separate myself from Dr. King. This was the time when [Rev. Adam Clayton] Powell threatened to expose my so-called homosexual relationship with Dr. King.”

When Rustin pushed him on the issue to speak up on his behalf King did not. In John D’Emilo’s book Lost Prophet: The Life and times of Bayard Rustin he wrote the following on the matter:

“Rustin offered to resign in the hope that his would force the issue. Much to his chagrin, King did not reject the offer. At the time, King was also involved in a major challenge to the conservative leadership of the National Baptist convention, and one of his ministerial lieutenants in the fight was also gay.

‘Basically King said I can’t take on two queers at on time,’ one of Rustin’s associated recollected later.”

When Rustin was asked about MLK’s views on gays in a March 1987 interview with Redvers Jean Marie he stated, “It is difficult for me to know what Dr. King felt about gayness…”

As a March on Washington volunteer in 1963 Bayard Rustin was Eleanor Holmes Norton’s boss. The renowned Congresswoman of D.C. recalls the kerfuffle concerning Rustin’s sexuality.

“I was sure the attacks would come because I knew what they could attack Bayard for,” Norton stated to Steve Hendrix in a 2011 interview. “It flared up and then flared right back down,” Norton stated. “Thank God, because there was no substitute for Bayard.”

The association of Rustin to the March was inseparable to those who worked closely with him. “The 53-year-old known at the time as “Mr. March-on-Washington” was a lanky, cane-swinging, poetry-quoting black Quaker intellectual who wore his hair in a graying pompadour, ” Hendrix wrote in Bayard Rustin: Organizer of the March on Washington.

“When the anniversary comes around, frankly I think of Bayard as much as I think of King,” stated Norton. “King could hardly have given the speech if the march had not been so well attended and so well organized. If there had been any kind of disturbance, that would have been the story.”

Rustin was a complex man and often times seemingly a contrarian. To the surprise of many, Rustin was an opponent to “identity politics,” and most likely would not have been waving a rainbow flag or approve of queer studies departments at colleges and universities. To many conservative African Americans Rustin wasn’t only “queer” in the literal sense but was perceived also as one who didn’t have any of the approved and appropriate black sensibilities.

“Rustin’s steadfast opposition to identity politics also came under criticism by exponents of the developing Black Power movement. His critical stance toward affirmative action programs and black studies departments in American universities was not a popular viewpoint among many of his fellow Afro-Americans, and as at various other times of his life Rustin found himself to a certain extent isolated,” Buzz Haughton wrote in his article “Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Leader,” in the Fall 1999 issue of Quaker Studies.

As we comb through the annals of history more of us are learning that Rustin was also one of the tallest trees in our forest.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

MLK Day Reflections for LGBTQ Justice in the Black Church

January 13, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

I am proud to count myself among the many people working for social justice today who stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Too many people think King’s statements regarding justice are only about race and the African-American community – thus excluding the LGBTQ community.
But King said that, “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place. Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial justice.”

Members of King’s family also embrace his words, extending them to the LGBTQ community.

For example, in 1998, Coretta Scott King addressed the LGBT group Lambda Legal in Chicago. In her speech, she said queer rights and civil rights were the same. “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King’s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

Like her parent’s faith, the King’s eldest daughter’s, Yolanda, faith in the civil rights movement drove her passion for LGBTQ justice.  “If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you do not have the same rights as other Americans,” she said at Chicago’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit in 2006. “You cannot marry, … you still face discrimination in the workplace, and in our armed forces. For a nation that prides itself on liberty, justice and equality for all, this is totally unacceptable.”

However, I must say, as an African American minister I have learned having pastored churches, and having worked alongside black ministers and their parishioners, that who we shout out and pray to on Sunday as an oppressed people, does not exclude or have any relations to who we damn, discard and demonize; thus being an oppressor to people marginalized and disenfranchised like ourselves. The Black Church is an unabashed and unapologetic oppressor to its LGBTQ community and consequently, a hindrance in progressive movements toward LGBTQ civil rights in this country.

While King would undoubtedly shake his head in disbelief concerning his brethren he would however applaud the stance the NAACP took on marriage equality.

In quelling the tension between black civil right activists and ministers of the 1960’s who still vociferously state that marriage equality for LGBTQ Americans is not a civil right, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., marked the 40th anniversary of  “Loving v. Virginia,” that’s when the U. S. Supreme Court in 1967 struck down this country’s  anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional, by stating the following concerning same-sex marriage:  “It is undeniable that the experience of African Americans differs in many important ways from that of gay men and lesbians; among other things, the legacy of slavery and segregation is profound. But differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the fight to marry the person of their choice.”

But if King was with us today he would be sad with how homophobia continues within the Black Church community, having both a profound impact on the mistreatment of its LGBTQ communities, and its inattentiveness on the AIDS epidemic ravaging the black community.

Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of human life. Although its Latin root “religio” means “to bind,” it has served as a legitimate power in binding people’s shared hatred.

But Kings teachings taught me how religion plays a profound role in the work of justice.
A religion that looks at reality from an involved committed stance in light of a faith that does justice sees the face of the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the dispossessed – and that also includes its LGBTQ people.

As a religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against LGBTQ people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the ‘other’ and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion;’ by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.

I miss the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I miss the sound of his voice, the things he said with his voice. I miss the choir that resounded within him with his voice. In keeping his dream alive we must continue to lift our voices.  We must speak our truth to power. And for those of us who live on the margin we must speak out, because OUR survival as LGBTQ worshippers in our faith communities is predicated on our voices being lifted.
Each year, I mark the MLK holiday by reexamining King’s teachings, remembering that my longing for LGBTQ justice is inextricably tied to my work toward religious tolerance in the Black Church.

And this is why I continue to speak up.

Rev. Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker, and theologian.  She  has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)

The Real Housewives of Civil Rights

February 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Real Housewives of Civil Rights

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this (’cause icons are not to be tampered with, right?) but I found this video funny and well done.  I was struck by the fact it was done by an all-female, all-African American comedy troupe called Elite Delta Force 3.  First off, the production values are really good as well as the characterizations.  I also thought it was a sharp critique of reality show devices and situations, particularly The Real Housewives of Atlanta.  My only quibble is that I thought the Marilyn Monroe character was misplaced.  I didn’t think it was demeaning to the memories of Betty Shabazz, Coretta Scott King, Winnie Mandela, Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks (although the shot of her drinking from a flask was jolting). Indeed, by taking these historical, accomplished, complicated, iconic women and placing them in an extreme caricature, I would hope that it should make us (African Americans in particular and all communities in general) take a look at what we value in our entertainment.  And it’s all the more a poignant statement if you know the real history of the lives of these icons, versus the fabricated stories perpetuated in the Real Housewives franchise.

So… what are your thoughts on the video?

Thanks for stopping by,
Valerie Linson
Blog Editor & Broadcast Series Producer
Basic Black

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