rev. osagyefo uhuru sekou

   rev. osagyefo uhuru sekou

           

Beyond Occupy: Now is the Time!

The task for before us is not to ‘rebuild the American dream’ but imagine a new democracy.  Occupy Wall Street has broken the spirit that been hanging over the populace for far too long.  That spirit of despair and disconnectedness has been replaced with an embodied encampment of hope and possibility.   While the political, more pointedly, electoral outcomes maybe uncertain, the greatest victory of Occupy Wall Street is existential.   Occupy has re-imagined what it means to be a citizen in a Western democracy.   This Herculean victory may prove to be Sisyphusian but OWS has “hued a stone of hope out a mountain of despair”.    The despair was the high of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the length of the River Nile.  

 

The 1960s revolution in the United States was punctuated world wide in 1968 with the assassination of Martin Luther King, riots, and the bloody student revolts in Europe.  Since that time we have witness consistent push back against the historic gains for social justice—an erosion of promise of the New Deal and Great Society, unchecked corporate power, and accelerated ecological degradation.  Internationally, the de-legitimization of the welfare state, international flow of capital, and increased militarization of public space, have buttressed an economic elite from both confrontation and critique.  Under the guise of globalization, the historical political center has given way to the normalization of hard right policies—a privatization of the public good, services, and resources.  

 

Equally, the global commoditization of bodies is supported by the religious commoditization.  From Taliban to the U.S. religious right, meaning making is centered on extremely conservative faith practices which a hell bent on dominance and divinely sanctioned violence.  The after math of September 11th—destroying the burgeoning anti-globalization movement—served to breed greater religious and material anxiety.  The moral, militaristic, and materialist impulse was solidified.  The fourth estate—free press—is the public relations firm for the aforementioned elite, i.e. the 1%. 

 

A telling example is Citizens United and the prison population.   The 14th amendment—granting citizenship to former slave—was interpreted by the highest court to given the same rights corporations.  This decision allows corporations to make unrestricted contributions to political campaigns.   At the same time, there are more Black men in prison now than there was at the time of slavery.  The Citizen Union decision suggest that corporations must have greater rights than imprisoned Black men and all citizens, en general. 

 

Unlike, the anti-colonial revolutions, civil rights movement, queer, feminist, and other nation-state or identity based revolutions, Occupy has placed all forms of dominance and oppression under the global gaze of the demos.   In their encampments sites, Occupy created communities that elite eyes have not seen and corporate ears refuse to hear.  

 

The electoral season must used to create context radically engages the powers and principalities in such a way that the quest for economic justice is central to what it means to be public servant in American democracy.  

Revolutionary Bible Study

 

The Freedom Church of New York City and West Park Presbyterian Church present: 
 
Revolutionary Bible Study
 
April 23,2012
7pm
 
West Park Presbyterian Church
165 West 86th Street at Amsterdam
New York, New York 10024
 
Mondays, 7pm
RSVP

The Occupy Movement has placed the issue of economic justice at the center of American political discourse. This Bible study focusing on historical Jesus in the occupied Palestine will offer a critical assessment of the role of revolutionary Christianity in our contemporary world.

co-taught by Rev. Dr. Robert Brashear and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou

Texts: The Gospel of Mark, Binding the Strong Man by Ched Meyers, and Gods, Gays, and Guns by Rev. Sekou 

Additional Readings:
Call and Consequences: A Womanist Reading of Mark by Rachel St. Clair
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone
The Historical Jesus by John Dominic Crossan 
A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez 
Saving Paradise by Rita Nagashima Brock and Rebecca Parker
Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman


Rev. Dr. Robert Brashear is the Senior Pastor of West Park Presbyterian Church and teaches Theologies of Liberation at Newark Theological Seminary. 

Rev. Osagyefo Sekou is the founding Senior Minister of The Freedom Church of New York City and teaches Homiletics at the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation honors the Legacy of Bayard Rustin

 

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FOR

Fellowship of Reconciliation
Working for peace, justice and nonviolence since 1915

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Dear Osagyefo,

Bayard Rustin in 1964 (Library of Congress) Though less well known than other civil rights leaders, Bayard Rustin played a large role in shaping that movement -- including when he worked at the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Rustin, who would have turned 100 last month, was a radical pacifist and key staffer at both FOR and the War Resisters League. Rustin was a tireless, creative, joy-filled activist who acted as a strategist for many justice struggles, including civil rights for African Americans and LGBT peoples, ending war and nuclear disarmament, and reforming the prison system.

As national organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, he was a skilled practitioner of nonviolent direct action, using it in such contexts as the first Freedom Ride -- the 1947 Journey for Reconciliation held by FOR and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), held 14 years before the 1961 Freedom Rides -- and while in federal prison during World War II.

Share with us: Your stories of Bayard Rustin's impact

In commemoration of the centennial anniversary of Rustin's life, Fellowship magazine is accepting submissions (less than 1,000 words) of essays regarding the impact of Bayard Rustin on the struggles for peace and justice, both historically and today.

Selected submissions will be published in a forthcoming issue of Fellowship or online. Reply to this email or contact editor@forusa.org by April 20 to let us know you'd like to submit an article, and we'll let you know what the timeline is.

Share Bayard's work with your community

Bayard Rustin's Life in LettersAn excellent new book, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters, has just been published by City Lights. Edited by Michael G. Long and with a foreword by Julian Bond, I Must Resistfeatures hundreds of Rustin's writings to such figures as Dr. King, A. J. Muste, Desmond Tutu, U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan, and many more. Ranging from the political to the very personal, the letters provide an in-depth look into a long life of struggle and resistance. It's a must-read!

Purchase the book through FOR's Amazon account and a portion of your purchase will support FOR.

Here is an excerpt from a September 1942 letter from Rustin to FOR's national staff:

"In many parts of this country I have found men completely cut off from a knowledge of pacifism. ... I therefore have a deep concern when I hear many FOR people across this nation say they feel they ought to be still at this time. I believe this is the time to say louder and more frequently than before the truth that war is wrong, stupid, wasteful, and impeding future progress and any possibilities of a just and durable peace..."

Gods, Gays, and Guns bookExtending Bayard's tradition

Another new book, Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy, by Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou -- FOR Freeman Fellow and founding senior minister of The Freedom Church of New York City -- features a chapter on Bayard Rustin. In a commentary to FOR, Sekou writes:

"Like Rustin, the Fellowship of Reconciliation provided me a space to exercise my own sense of calling. I have attempted to extend the tradition of Rustin -- militant nonviolent direct action that makes links between economic, racial, and queer justice with revolutionary joy and insurgent laughter. Taking a cue from his controversial essay, 'New Niggers are Gays,' I published an essay bearing a similar title, 'Gays are the New Niggers.' I argue based on Rustin's formulation that both communities are at odds with the democracy. Hence, the solidarity of oppression must lead to solidarity in action.

"As wars and rumors of wars continue to haunt the world, the work of FOR in Iran and economic justice in the United States is needed more than ever. No one can be indifferent to FOR's work for peace and justice. For Rustin reminds us all: 'Every indifference to prejudice is suicide because, if I don't fight all bigotry, bigotry itself will be strengthened and, sooner or later, it will return on me.' "

You can also purchase the book directly from FOR for $16 plus shipping and handling.

Two weeks ago, Rev. Sekou kicked off a national book tour in a fabulous public conversation with Dr. Cornel West in New York City. Sekou will preach this coming Sunday at New York's historic Riverside Church, and will hold another dynamic conversation with Dr. Benjamin Barber at The New School on Monday evening. If you are interested in having Sekou speak in your area, contact him directly and reference FOR.

Hosting Bayard Rustin events in your area

Walter Naegle, Rustin's life partner from 1977 until Rustin's death in 1987, has helped toorganize nationwide events to recognize and explore the life of Bayard Rustin and the impact of his work.

These include screenings of the documentary film Brother Outsider, multimedia exhibits, and readings of I Must Resist.

Bayard's songs

Bayard Rustin - The Singer CDAlso available from FOR is Bayard Rustin -- The Singer, a unique 26-song audio CD of Rustin singing Elizabethan songs and African-American spirituals. Accompanied by Margaret Davidson on harpsichord and with narration by civil rights leader James Farmer (the first director of CORE), FOR originally produced these as two LP recordings in the 1940s.

Thanks to Walter Naegle, this has been reproduced in a modern format with additional liner notes.

FOR honors the civil rights movement

George Houser, April 2012Last week, veteran civil rights, anti-war and African liberation activist George Houser paid a special visit to our national headquarters in Nyack, NY. Houser, now 95, worked closely with Bayard Rustin, A. J. Muste, and other FOR 20th century leaders, serving on FOR's staff as a youth secretary and field secretary in the 1940s and '50s. He co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) with Rustin and others, and is the only living member of FOR & CORE's 1947 Freedom Ride. Houser also founded the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), and he left FOR's staff to serve as the first executive director of ACOA, returning to the Fellowship in the 1990s as FOR's interim executive director.

Together with his wife Jean, with whom he had traveled from California to New York, George reflected on an extraordinary legacy of justice-centered ministry, sharing stories of collaboration with such luminaries as Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere, and more. In one memorable story, Houser recalled his six-month trip in 1954 throughout much of the African continent, during which British colonial regimes refused him visas due to his renowned racial justice work in the United States.

Doug Hostetter, Mark Johnson, George Houser, Richard DeatsAs we commemorated the 44th anniversary of the death of Dr. King last week, George joined three other FOR executive directors, shown in the photograph at right: Doug Hostetter (1987-93), Mark Johnson (2007-present), George Houser (1997-98), and Richard Deats (1979-84 and 2000-02). Each peacemaker offered a touching reflection on where they were the day that King died and how they heard the news; they mirrored FOR's work for global justice. Hostetter and Johnson were both conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War, and were living in Vietnam and Lebanon, respectively, doing alternative service in 1968. Houser was in New York City, and heard the news on his car radio. Deats was in the Philippines, serving as a United Methodist missionary and teacher, and remembered helping to organize a chapel service to mourn for Dr. King when the news of his death reached the South Pacific.

We offer thanks to George Houser, Bayard Rustin, and all those who have paved the way of civil and human rights. And we express our gratitude to you, our supporters, for continuing to make this work possible at FOR.

In the struggle for justice,

Mark C. Johnson

Top image: Library of Congress (New York World-Telegram and the Sun), 1964. Public domain.

 

Gods, Gays, and Guns: Religion, Politics, and the Future of Global Democracy

Gods, Gays, and Guns:  Religion, Politics, and the Future of Global Democracy

Noted democratic theorist, Dr. Benjamin Barber and Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, emerging public intellectual and theologian will engage in public dialogue about the role of religion in democracy.   The current electoral season has raised the cultural wars concerning the role of religion in determining social policy to a fevered pitch. By exploring the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the politics of religion in this settings, this dialogue would push for greater understanding of the political landscape. The confluence of  global capital, global calamity, and global culture requires proponents of democracy at home and aboard to consider this new circumstances. 

 

Benjamin R. Barber is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at  Dēmos , President and Founder of the international NGO  CivWorld at Dēmos and the  Interdependence Movement . He is Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus, Rutgers University. An internationally renowned political theorist, Dr. Barber brings an abiding concern for democracy and citizenship to issues of politics, globalization, culture and education in America and abroad. He consults regularly with political and civic leaders in the U.S. (President Bill Clinton, Howard Dean) and around the world (Germany, U.K., Libya, Singapore). Benjamin Barber's 17 books include the classic  Strong Democracy (1984) reissued in 2004 in a twentieth anniversary edition; the international best-seller  Jihad vs. McWorld  (1995 with a Post 9/11 Edition in 2001, translated into thirty languages) and most recently Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole , published by W.W. Norton & Co. in March, 2007 (ten foreign editions). His upcoming book,  If Mayors Ruled the World , will be published by Yale University Press in 2013.

Barber's honors include a knighthood (Palmes Academiques/Chevalier) from the French Government (2001), the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin (2001) and the John Dewey Award (2003). He has also been awarded Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Social Science Research Fellowships, honorary doctorates from Grinnell College, Monmouth University and Connecticut College, and has held the chair of American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

He blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and writes for The NationHarper's MagazineThe New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Atlantic MonthlyThe American ProspectLe Nouvel ObservateurDie ZeitLa RepubblicaEl País and The Guardian. He was a founding editor and for ten years editor-in-chief of the distinguished international quarterly Political Theory.

 

 

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is an author, documentary filmmaker, public intellectual, organizer, pastor and theologian. He has written two collection of essays, urbansouls (Urban Press, 2001) and Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Race, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Campbell and Cannon Press, 2012)

 Gods, Gays, and Guns  takes up the topics of gay marriage, economic justice, and social movements. Written in the Parisian cafes, London’s ghetto, and the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake and post-Katrina New Orleans, Gods, Gays, and Guns is a spiritual tour-de-force— revealing a crisis of faith in religion and democracy. With an unflinching pen, Rev. Sekou challenges the reader to rethink the meaning of the role of religion in our global democracy.   

Rev. Sekou has given over 1000 lectures throughout the country and abroad, including Harvard Divinity School, Princeton University, University of Virginia, and the University of Paris IV- La Sorbonne, and Vanderbilt University for the African American Lectionary Conference. In response to the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, Rev. Sekou moved to New Orleans for six month and founded the Interfaith Worker Justice Center for New Orleans. 

As an "International Ambassador" for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Rev. Sekou is a Statesman for peace and justice throughout world. He co-led an interfaith delegation to Haiti one month after the tragic earthquake.  He built toilets alongside the Haitian people. Based on a Lecture he delivered in Beirut, Lebanon, his short documentary film, Exiles in the Promised Land: The Quest for Home focuses on the plights of Palestinians, Iraqi, and post-Katrina New Orleans. The film was accepted at the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival.  Rev. Sekou was a delegate to the People's World Climate Change Conference in Bolivia. He was a delegate to the Interdependence Day Conferences in Istanbul, Turkey and Berlin, Germany. He has played a key role in civil and interfaith diplomacy negotiations with the Iranian government.

 

Recognizing his distinguished work as Public Scholar and Intellectual, the Institute for Policy Studies-the nation's oldest multi-issue progressive think tank in Washington, D.C. appointed Rev. Sekou as the first Associate Fellow in Religion and Justice.  Recently, Rev. Sekou received the Keeper of the Flame Award by the National Voting Rights Institute and Museum in Selma, AL. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012, 7pm-9pm, Bluestockings Bookstore God, Gays, and Guns Book-signing

Dear Friends:

I am pleased to announce the first official book-signing for my new book,  Gods, Gays, and Guns: Essays on Religion and the Future of Democracy.  Please share with your networks and I hope to see you there

Sunday, March 4, 2012


7pm-9pm


Bluestockings Bookstore


172 Allen St.


New York, NY 10002


212.777.6028


Directions


About the Book
 â€œDemocracy and god have failed”— captures the spirit of this provocative collection of essays. Arguing that the religion must be used for the expansion of democracy, Gods, Gays, and Guns  takes up the topics of gay marriage, economic justice, and social movements. Written in the Parisian cafes, London’s ghetto, and the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake and post-Katrina New Orleans, Gods, Gays, and Guns is a spiritual tour-de-force— revealing a crisis of faith in religion and democracy. With an unflinching pen, Rev. Sekou challenges the reader to rethink the meaning of the role of religion in our global democracy.

You can read a free excerpt from the book at Huffington Post.

Praise for book

"Rev. Sekou is one of the most courageous and prophetic voices of our time. His allegiance to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is strong and his witness is real. Don't miss this book!" -Cornel West, Professor of Religion, Princeton University
 

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Vocation of Agony: A Personal Meditation on Dr. King’s Legacy

 

[Ed. Note: The following article will appear in the Spring 2008 issue of Fellowship magazine, and is offered here online in the context of this week's observance of the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Click here to subscribe to Fellowship. ]

Sitting in our favorite coffeehouse, Tyler Jared, my eldest son, and I are having our “man time.” I am sipping a cappuccino and he is drinking some orange concoction. We stare into one another’s eyes, with an occasional “What?” breaking our silence. We are excited to see each other and saddened by the time we have spent apart. I hold a deep sense of calling that has taken me around the world, but away from him and his siblings. He has grown so much. He is now taller than me, his 13-year-old face starting to break out with pimples, voice cracking, but he is still my baby. I hold his hand and run my fingers through his golden locks. It embarrasses him, but he does not stop me, because I am Dad.

He interrupts the silence. “Dad, everyone knows you want to be like Martin Luther King.”

Blushing and flattered, I respond with a flat attempt at humility. “No, no, son, I am just trying to stand in tradition that keeps track of human. . .”

Annoyed, Tyler cuts me off. “No, Dad, everyone knows.” He raises an eyebrow. “You risk arrest,” he states. (He is reminding me of the scolding he gave me for being arrested at the White House, when, to his chagrin, his teenage cohorts saw me being handcuffed on television. I was not practicing what I preached, since I always told him to stay out trouble, and then went and got myself arrested!)

“You organize other preachers. You talk about world peace.” After a pregnant pause, he announces, “But you are not that good at it!” Before I can defend myself – and the entire project of freedom – he notes: “You know that they started another war in Lebanon. Did you know that?”

To my surprise, Tyler had been paying attention to world affairs, including Israel’s bombing in Lebanon in the summer of 2005. He was clear that if I had been “good at it” there would not be yet another war in the Middle East.

With the wisdom of a teenager, Tyler concludes, “Look, you should give speeches about it and write a book about it. But you are not that good at making it happen.” And I am left speechless.

Another generation of Clergy and Laity Concerned
On April 4, 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King issued to America yet another stirring warning, responding to her terrible engagement against the people of Vietnam:

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. … We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

At the Riverside Church in New York City on March 21, 2005 – the same venue where Dr. King had delivered his hallmark “A Time to Break the Silence” speech almost 40 years earlier – I became the founding national coordinator of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq. Representing over 300 faith-based institutions working to end the war in Iraq, CALC-I filled a void of silence by religious leaders that had been evident in the first two years of the war. Less than six months after our founding, CALC-I and our parent organization, United for Peace and Justice, the nation’s largest peace coalition, organized the largest civil disobedience at the White House since the start of the war. Over 370 people were arrested, including 60 clergy. Among the arrestees were Cornel West and distinguished theologian Walter Wink. Yet, we now are entering in the sixth year of the war in Iraq, and due to my poor leadership and to under-funding, CALC-I, like King, is dead. Perhaps Tyler was right.

King’s life
Dr. King proclaimed in one of his final sermons, “Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God.” The goal of his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was “to redeem the soul of the nation.” The soul of a nation is its social structures, political discourse, and quality of life – democracy.

In what is considered his most “dangerous” speech – “A Time to Break the Silence” – King employed the tortured phrase “vocation of agony.” King named the challenge of calling upon god in the struggle for social justice. He gave this speech in the midst of death threats, repudiation from SCLC’s board, and merciless attacks in the mainstream and African-American media. A major task of King’s public speech was to rebel against the monopoly on religious discourse shaped by conservative religious individuals and institutions, thereby creating space for the revelation of the prophetic god:

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate for our limited vision, but we must speak..

King carved out a place where the task of religion is to challenge the role of government. His notion of “the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism” highlighted the role of the United States in both the manipulation of foreign governments and its treatment of the poor (at home and abroad) that has led to a crisis in American democracy.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

This speech was not simply about American foreign policy gone awry but about the very nature of religion and democracy. The role of government in the lives of the poor throughout the world was addressed by his courageous oration. It is centered on a belief that religion and democracy are in dialogue with one another. This dialogue has led to the production of the religious precedent for democratic expansion.

With his chariot waiting in the “hither lands,” King, in his last sermon – delivered on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee – linked religion, democracy, and social protest. After a synoptic survey of human social protest and intellectual ingenuity, thereby situating his public ministry and democracy in an intimate conversation with the plight of the Memphis sanitation workers and their strike, King responded to the injunction placed on their march:

We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around.

Continuing his theology of democracy and the role of clergy, he posed a rhetorical question, “Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher?” Quoting the prophets of justice, Amos and Isaiah, he acknowledged the presence of clergy from around the country, highlighting the economic boycott work of a young Jesse Jackson. Celebrating “relevant ministry,” he challenged religious leaders to be concerned with this world’s poverty and injustice.

Today, the sermons of presidential candidate Barack Obama‘s pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, have placed race and religion at the center of the public debate once again. Rev. Wright’s critique of U.S. foreign policy stands square with King’s prophetic voice. So hot were Wright’s words that the candidate had to distance himself, and so true that he could not disown the prophet.

Honoring King’s legacy
What does it mean to honor the legacy of Dr. King? Maybe, it means moving into projects of Chicago and living with gang members in their tenement slums, as he did in 1966. King lived off $6,000 a year with four children because he believed in serving the poor over personal gain. He took a $1 (one dollar!) annual salary from SCLC. It is often noted that he had three suits the last year of his life and that he washed out his dress shirt in the sink at night to have it clean for his next speaking engagement. King gave every dime he had to the movement, including the $100,000-plus award that accompanied his Nobel Peace Prize. When rebuked by his own board at SCLC, he still spoke out against the Vietnam war, only to be further rebuked by every major national newspaper. When trashed publicly by Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Bull Connor, and southern city fathers, King never lashed out in anger but always responded as a loving statesman. With death threats abounding, the FBI discrediting his work through its COINTELPRO program, and SCLC funding in question, he went to march with sanitation workers in Memphis – broke, black garbagemen.

That last night of his life, he prophesied the future of America:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

I do not believe that there is a promised land – only exile. With an unrelenting war on the precious people of Iraq in the precocious name of democracy on the one hand, and the unfathomable neglect of the Gulf Coast citizenry on the other, our national spirit seems doomed to continue spiraling toward incomprehensible darkness. The concept of exile is central because I believe that post-Katrina New Orleans, the revival of the noose, the expansion of the prison-industrial complex, right-of-center public discourse, and general hostility toward the poor and the Other in this nation – whose identity is built upon manifest destiny, believing it is a shining city on the hill, a promised land – has shown that America has no “home” for poor black folks. We find ourselves rolling the stone of race and religion up the hill of democracy. It is a Camusian dialectic, perpetually hewing a stone of hope out of a mountain of despair; Martin Luther King Jr.‘s theology encountering Sisyphus’ tragedy.

Roberto Unger and Cornel West in The Future of American Progressivism lay before us our task: “It is not enough to rebel against the lack of justice, we must also rebel against the lack of imagination.” We must claim the words that have been so cheapened in the public discourse: democracy, freedom, and evil.

Democracy is the ability of everyday folk to have discussions and make decisions about their life chances in the context of community. Freedom must be defined as the ability of folk to make informed choices and with adequate resources. Evil is the denial of access to the existential and economic, personal and political, spiritual, and societal resources necessary to make those decisions and choices. In order to be grounded with sure political footing, we must stand on a prophetic tradition, employ historical agency, and execute moral imperative.

As we critique political structures and economic apparatus, we must never forget to love. Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, and endures all things. Love means we care for the personal, political, social, economic, and organizational needs of others more than we do our own individual and organizational desires. Love is that force that cuts across human divisions of race, religion, nation, or creed. Again, King teaches us:

When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

Love will shed new light on the improvised language and build a new system of ideas and social infrastructure. As we love each other, we will create a loving society preoccupied with peace and justice.

Out of the mouth of another babe
Having heard about the conversation between his elder brother and I, Gabriel Israel DuBois, my second oldest son, was not to be outdone. Known among his family as the “sensitive one,” Gabriel is the spitting image of me when I was seven. Getting eye to eye with me, he declares, “Dad, you know they shot Martin Luther King.”

Bewildered, I can only say, “I know, son, I know.”

“You know if you keep doing what you are doing they are going to shoot you, too … but I love you and will protect you…”

Obama and the Death of African-American Politics

 
The narrowing of black public discourse to only supporting President Barack Obama will undermine his presidency and ultimately the democracy. Without a critical engagement with his policies, he will continue to serve the interest of Wall Street (bailouts), a retrograde immigration policy (500,000 folks deported on his watch), and an accelerated erosion of civil liberties (National Defense Authorization Act). While Tavis Smiley is not a socialist as I am, I think his experience speaks to a startling new phenomenon inside the African-American community-a systematic repression of prophetic voices against a president’s polices.  Given the two party system, for the American left, Obama is our impoverished option.   Until there is a viable third party option and the social movement to create the context for a left of center President and legislative body to, progressively, govern,  many of us will  hold our noses and vote for Obama.  As I have argued elsewhere, President Obama's benefits from trafficking the rythmns and rhetoric of the prophetic tradition and a protectionist logic, thereof. 
 
The prophetic tradition has served to create a public discourse and will courageous enough to enact sweeping public policy that tilts toward the least of these and the expansion of democratic opportunity. By reducing the public discourse to cheering on the president without critique only serves the interest of the most powerful. What we have at work during this electoral season— a right of center governing and public discourse that caused the economic depression. The President has trafficked in progressive discourse while legislating to the right—this has been the policy strategy of the Democratic Party since Bill Clinton. Obama has to be challenged on that. I am less interested in the individuals in this drama but rather I am pointing to a neo-liberal administration, and cowardly Democratic Party, and recalcitrant Republican Party that continues to serve the interest of the most powerful while they all trafficked in the language of populism at the expensive of substantial public policy to lift the burden of poor .

gods, gays, guns: essays on race, religion, and democracy (January 2012)

gods, Gays, Guns is a powerful and provocative manifesto that challenges old perceptions about race, sexuality, gender and power. Its theoretical brilliance is complemented by the author's accessible literary style and eloquence in the theological arguments advanced in this critical study. gods, Gays, Guns offers a visionary, black liberationist theology for addressing the great challenges facing America and the world in an era of war, racism, and violence. Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou has produced a monumental treatise that offers hope and courage, not only for the oppressed, but all humanity.  â€“the late Manning Marable, Author, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

 

 

 
 

 

CATCH A FIRE: Vibe Magazine Exclusive Report on Hip Hop and the London Riots 2011 by REV. OSAGYEFO UHURU SEKOU

On December 6th, Vibe Magazine will publish my feature length article, titled, “Catch a Fire”  The article, which is 6300 words in its original form, is based on my one on one interviews and exclusive access to the Duggan family, friends, community activists, Hip Hop artists and a Member of Parliament.   The feature article reveals that the police engaged in a number of inappropriate if not illegal actions which contributed to the climate that produced the riots.  Equally, having traveled to London, twice, to conduct extensive community interviews, I attest to a number of inaccurate media accounts about Mark Duggan’s shooting, the riots, his funeral, and family background.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

On August 6, 2011, Mark Duggan was fatally wounded by police sparking riots in Tottenham which quickly spread to 46 other municipalities and cities throughout the Britain.   Mark Duggan was born and bred on The Farm—Broadwater Farm Estate, a storied public housing community in Tottenham, North London with a large West Indian population.   Four days after London began to burn, I was dispatched by Vibe Magazine to get the real story.  I went to Broadwater Farm in search of answers.  After some reluctance, the community accepted me.  I was given exclusive access to Mark Duggan’s family, community leaders, and noted Hip Hop artists who have been working on police brutality.  I was privileged to be guided through Brixton and Broadwater Farm by legendary poet David J the Vocal Pugilist, who introduced me to progressive Hip Hop artists throughout London.

 

(Performance by legendary poet and MC, David J the Vocal Pugilist )

 

As Tottenham burned, rapper Rowdy T released an eerie underground hit, “Riot Muzik”.  Born on Broadwater Farm, Rowdy T knew Mark Duggan and wrote the song to share his pain and rage.  Echoing Martin Luther King’s Jr. claim that “riots are the language of the unheard,” Rowdy called for self-defence in what he called a “war between the police and the streets.” He ripped the track: “Loot something... We aren’t scared / bust your gun because they don’t hear our tears.”

 

(Broadwater Farm's born and bred rapper, Rowdy-T's Riot Muzik)

 

British media, initially, reported that there was a shoot out between the police and Duggan which was proven to be false.   The Broadwater Farm community is reported to be crack invested gangland, which are simply not true.   As the only journalist allowed in Mark Duggan’s funeral services, I am fully aware of the misrepresentation of the nature and character of the September 9th funeral services.  One newspaper characterized a Pentecostal gesture of blessing as a gang salute during the funeral processional.  As well as Mark and his mates are considered a gang by British media when in fact they close knit community of young men, who at times have been unjustly targeted by Scotland Yard. 

 

These portraits of young Black men in London and questionable deaths in police custody are not new.  In the past twenty years, over 1,400 people have died in police custody and police officer has never been charged.   Ricky Bishop, Smiley Culture, and host of others are among those who died under suspicious circumstances in police custody.  There is a general sense in the Black British population that their lives are not valued by the police.   Moreover, many Black youth feel alienated from British society.

 

(Broadwater Farm poet and rapper, Wan-Cee)

 

 

Hip Hop music has been a vehicle for youth self expression.  Both Mark Duggan and his best friend Smegz—who was stabbed to death a few months before Mark’s shooting—were aspiring Hip Hop artists.    A month before Mark was shot, a noted Hip Hop artist, MC Logic chaired a community forum entitled, “Who Polices the Police?” The forum took up the question of police brutality and youth activism. 

 

(Bar's for Change, "Mr. Officer", featuring MC Logic)

 

To this end, I am currently working on book and documentary.  In Riot Music:  Hip Hop, Broadwater Farm, and the London Riots 2011 examines the context and cause of the riots.  This unique book relies heavily on firsthand accounts and community knowledge.  The origins of British Hip Hop, police community relations, and the politics of race offer insights into the conditions that precipitated the riots. Riots Music will offer the perspectives of a wide range of voices—young men from the Farm to Members of Parliament.    By placing the Duggan shooting a broader context, the roots of social unrest are unearthed.  This text has international implications. Riots initiated by people of color in Western societies are typified by three factors:  young alienated ethnic community, a history of police brutality, and poverty.   This powder keg is sparked by perceived unjust police violence against a member of the ethnic community From Rodney King to Mark Duggan, the challenging relationship between police and ethnic communities has erupted in social protest and civil unrest.  Riot Music assesses these challenges and puts forth potential solutions —presenting Western societies the opportunity to make all citizens feel at home.

 

 

 

 

Beyond Trivial Melodies: The Black Church and Occupy Wall Street

 

When creative genius neglects to ally itself in this way to some public interest it hardly gives birth to works of wide or perennial influence. Imagination needs a soil in history, tradition, or human institutions, else its random growths are not significant enough and, like trivial melodies, go immediately out of fashion.

                -George Santayana

 

I am a radical democrat or improvisational socialist—as opposed to a social democrat or left liberal— because I am convinced that the rule of capital (an interlocking network of corporate, bank, and political elites), the hegemony of white and male supremacist ideologies, the proliferation of homophobic sensibilities, and the relative weakness of ecological consciousness are the major obstacles to our task.

-Cornel West

 

The Black church has been virtually absent in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  The Black Church, which has nearly a mythological hold on progressive religious identity in America, was born in the crucible of slavery and reached its political height in the Civil Rights movement.  Asserting the humanity of Black people and demanding god-given democratic rights placed the Black Church at the left of most political discourse inside the American empire.  Two generations later, save a few stalwarts from a bygone era, the most visible Black religious leaders are the purveyors of a Wall Street theology.   This is a feature and function of capitalist discourse that dominates both liberal and conservative political affiliations in the United States. 

 

Occupy Wall Street has placed economic justice (i.e. income inequality and a corrupt governmental-financial industrial complex) at the center of the public conversation.   The very idea of class warfare has gained a certain salience in the American mind.   Occupy Wall Street presents a unique moment in the life of the Black Church to wrestle with the class divisions and economic justice.   Combined the high levels of economic deprivation that has wreaked havoc on Black communities for the past generation, the nature of what its means to be the Black Church and to have success in the Black community is up for debate.    While acknowledging racism barriers, most African Americans still hold to the Horatio Algiers’ narrative—hard work is rewarded with economic success.   Yet the current economic crisis has proven this axiom to be hollow.

 

To be sure the Black Church is not monolithic.  In fact the term, “Black Church” is a rubric for a half dozen predominately Black denominations, dozens of non-denominational mega churches and their fellowships, and black congregations inside predominately white denominations.  These various constellations constitute the Black Church.  In word, there are many “Black Churches”.

 

Beyond the theological nuances and denominational politics, an assessment of the Black Church’s relationship to economic justice begins with its theological traditions and congregational tendencies.  The dismal Black Church participation in Occupy Wall Street is a function of the dominant strains of Black religious life in United States. Historically, economic justice and critiques of the market have not been dominant features of the Black Church. The theological traditions and congregational tendencies can be broadly categorized in four distinct but overlapping constructions:  social conservative, social gospel, liberationist, and democratic socialist. 

 

Social conservative churches and theologians place an emphasis on personal piety and individual responsibility.  The aim is to be converted to Christianity. They read the Bible as fundamentalist and often deployed Victorians notions of respectability and gender norms concerning the role of women—the domestic sphere.  More over social conservatism not only lacks a critique of capitalism but rather lauds its possibilities.  In the context of the church, wealthy persons are in possessions of the highest Christian virtue. Conversely, the poor are poor because of their lack of faith—a central feature of the prosperity gospel. Group action is typically associated with food pantries, clothing donations, and community holiday meals. But most activities center around the life of the congregations (i.e. bible study and faith formation classes).  These efforts have sole purpose of religious conversation.  Voting in elections for candidates who share their religious values and worldview is the most frequent form of civic engagement. 

 

In addition to social services and subsistence programming (e.g. homeless shelters and soup kitchens), social gospel congregations advocate for public policy that eases the structural stressors on the poor.  Their group action ranges from food pantries to campaigning for continued government funding of programs for the poor.   Moreover, their theological caretakers create religious based ethics to buttress the social gospel actions. Unlike their socially conservative counterparts, social gospel adherents place an equal value on religious conversation of the individual and religion’s critique of institutions and structures of oppression.  Distrustful of industrialization, social gospel folks argued that evil (read oppressive) systems inhibit personal piety. To this end, early social gospel proponents provided services. 

 

A significant amount of scholarship has been devoted to the social conservative and social gospel streams of the Black Church. Across denominations, the social gospel and social conservative are the largest tendencies of the Black Church.  However, the liberationist tradition is the most revered in public imagination and is often cited as the most authentic Black church.  Both the social conservative and social gospel clergy and congregations lay claim to the legacy of the liberationist church. To this end, countless texts have been written on the Civil Rights movement.  Every Black preacher—worth their weight in salt—lifts up the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. as the touchstone for the role of pastor. 

 

The origins of the liberationist tradition can be found as early as the 1700s with the founding of Black denominations and churches committed to ending slavery and full enfranchisement. It reaches its theological maturation in the writing of Rev. Dr. James Cone, the father of Black Liberation Theology.  In the liberationist tradition,  Black solidarity presupposes religious conversation.  Womanist theologians accentuated the life and life chances of Black women in the face of the racism of the feminist movement and the sexism of the Black church.  The liberationist project is the direct descendant of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements—breaking the back of America apartheid and emphasizing black self reliance.  Afrocentric cultural practices, community economic development, anti-domestic/sexual violence, social services, voter turn out, and public policy advocacy are part of the liberationist praxis.   The liberationist use social protest in a variety of settings—from workers right to targeting discriminatory business.   In a few spaces, queer Black theology and congregations have emerged in response to the Black Churches homophobia in the social conservative, social gospel, and liberationist traditions. 

 

Hence, these categories often overlap at times are held in tension—black nationalist’s congregations with social conservative theology; womanist theologians with Victorian sensibilities about sexual respectability; civil rights pastor who opposes gay marriage.   However fluid this categories may be, one thing holds true—none have wrestled critically with the question of economic justice.    The democratic socialist tradition has not been as widespread as the social conservative or social gospel and does not enjoy the prominence of the liberationist tradition in public mind.  The democratic socialist tradition is the least known and valued of the Black Church categories.  Occupy Wall Street and widespread economic uncertainity demands that this tradition be recovered and reconstituted, if the Black church is to be relevant in this moment.  

 

There is a small but significant tradition of African American church leaders who believed that economic justice lay at the center of their faith formation.  Black Unitarian minister, Rev. Peter H. Clark joined the socialist Worker’s Party in 1876 because he believed that capital must be ruled and regulated not simply rule. Rev. George Washington Woodbey, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in San Diego, CA, became the leading Black socialist voice in the world.  The former slave ran for vice president of the United States with the renowned Eugene Debs on the Socialist Party ticket in 1902.  For Woodbey, socialism articulated biblical economics.  In the democratic socialist tradition, the conversation to socialism was the same as the Christian conversion.  Holding forth that Black folks were part of the working class and needed working class consciousness, Rev. Richard Euell was also an early 20th century advocate of Black Christian socialism. As pastor of Bethel African Church in Iowa, Rev. George Slater, Jr. continued in Woodbey’s foot steps and severed as the secretary as the Colored Race for the Christian Socialist Fellowship.   “Socialism, like the inspired Carpenter of Nazareth, places more value upon man than it does on riches,” wrote Rev. Reverdy Ransom in Negro and Socialism.  These creatures of the Black church argued that Black folks must embrace socialism as a means of their Christian duty and their social progress. 

 

The most written about and least understood figure to emerge from the Black Church is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  While the social conservative, social gospel, and liberationist tout his legacy, little attention is paid to King’s democratic socialist commitments. Of her courtship of Dr. King, Coretta Scott King commented that he was the first Black man she had met who called himself a democratic socialist.    Speaking before the Negro American Labor Council in 1965, King posited, “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”  At one of his last SCLC staff meetings he asked that the recorders be turned off as he spoke about his democratic socialist politics.   The eventuall founder of the Democratic Socialist of America, Michael Harrington wrote the Poor People’s Manifesto at King’s personal request.  

 

 

 

Toward a New Black Left Theology

King’s turn toward economic justice was evidence in the support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers and the Poor People’s Campaign.  He saw the struggle of the Poor People’s Campaign as the same struggle of the sanitation workers.   Democratic Socialism is the public control over public resources.  It places an emphasis democratic means to distribute wealth and the use of capital for public good.  It seeks to insure that all citizens have access to the means to meet human need with dignity.  The prophetic tradition of the Black Church which is most present in the social gospel and liberationist tradition emphasis the needs of the “least of these”—the poor and vulnerable.  Ending the economic and existential misery of the historically othered is the driving mission of the prophetic tradition.  A prophetic democratic socialism will turn public resources onto the needs of the least of these as means for democratic civilization.  

 

Occupy Wall Street challenges that the Black church and its theologies take up the cause of economic justice and democratic socialism. The economic devastation that has depression level of  unemployment in much of Black America demands a re-engagement with the democratic socialist project.  The emphasis on economic justice does not preclude wrestling with sexism, homophobia, imperialism, and racism.  Rather, a prophetic democratic socialism fully understands that economic justice is connected to the plight of women’s liberation, advance queer rights, black and brown poverty, and military industrial complex.  Transcending the identity politics of the liberationist by deeply engaging sexism, racism, and homophobia, extending the social gospel vision, and jettisoning the social conservative need for religious conversation, a new black left theology can seize upon the peculiar moment and reinvigorate the best of the prophetic tradition.  Prophetic democratic socialism believes that the nation must be converted to a more just economic and existential structure. .

 

This moment requires black preachers and theologians to take a Gramscian turn.   Appropriating Antonio Gramsci’s organic intellectual, the prophetic democratic socialist cultivates strong roots in their community, working to maintain links between theology, political economy, and local struggles connecting to the people and their experiences. The prophetic democratic socialist does not exist outside of history but rather assesses and articulate moments when the divine is breaking into history through social movements. 

 

In preparing for the seminal event for the Poor Peoples Campaign, Resurrection City, which planned to bring thousands of poor people to the nation’s capital to live in tents until the passage of anti-poverty legislation, King prophesies, “Resurrection City will be the Freedom Church of the poor”—a lived democratic socialist theology in community. 

 

This is the task of the Black church in the time of Occupy Wall Street.  If the Black church refuses this tradition is shall be like the tinkling brass—no more than a trivial melody that will soon be out of fashion.  

 

 

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