Posts

Elder Charles Blake II: Our Double Political Identity

Republican? Democrat? Conservative? Liberal? In this installment of The Elder’s Corner, Elder Charles Blake II discusses the dichotomy of being a Black Christian in political – and often polarized – America.

By Elder Charles Blake II

Since the November election, I’ve been in a number of places with those both inside and outside the African American community who have had much to say about the results of the 2016 Presidential election. There are some who expect me, by virtue of the fact that I am African American, to be in a state of depression because of President Donald Trump’s victory in the election. If they were a supporter of Mr. Trump, then they quietly choose not to openly celebrate his victory in my presence, for fear that they may raise my ire and cause me to unleash a passionate barrage of anger. If they did not vote for him, then they expected me to join with them in their anger, despair, and uncertainty at the future of our country’s well-being.

After my general disclaimer that “Whoever sits in the White House, it is God that sits on the throne of Heaven,” I had to remind them that, even when the person that they voted for wins the election, there is no guarantee that the world that they wanted to see will come to pass. When Barack Obama ran for President both times, the African American community and communities of other races, faiths and cultures came out overwhelmingly to support him and the dream of hope and change that he represented. However, as time progressed, we African Americans saw President Obama move to support agendas that had nothing to do with the issues that we face as a people. We now realize that it takes more than an African American President to heal our communities, and to help us move out of some of the issues facing us as African Americans.


WHERE DO YOU STAND?

In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama was nominated as the Democratic candidate for the President of the United States at the Democratic

National Convention. Bishop Charles Blake Sr. addressed the convention (see video, right); he also participated in a number of interviews during that time. I distinctly remember Bishop expressing the dichotomy – the double identity – of our political existence as African Americans. I heard him describe how traditionally, because of our values and morals, we are conservative; but with our political perspectives we are more progressive. We were taught by the example of our parents and grandparents the Biblical, traditional structure and values of God and family; and how, with hard work and discipline, an individual could rise to a higher level in life.

On the other hand, in our political perspectives, we are progressive. We have seen how the Federal Government, as far back as Reconstruction, had a large hand in ensuring that we as African Americans attained the rights espoused in our Constitution. We remember when the U.S. Marshals, and at times the National Guard, had to escort young African Americans to high schools and universities in the South, just so they could learn and get an education.

As a strong believer in pro-life values and traditional definitions of marriage, Bishop Blake has applauded the conservative defense of these values. However, he has decried the fact that their love and concern for the unborn stops at birth, and that more effort on their part is put into the construction of prisons than into the institutions which would build productive citizens. We, like Bishop Blake, applaud and agree with the progressive assertion that equal rights and opportunities should be available to every citizen of our nation, and that the Federal Government should protect those rights. But we, as African Americans, cannot agree with either the wholesale annihilation of millions of unborn children through abortion; or the equating of sexual preference with that of racial designation and the human rights that accompany that designation. We also cannot agree with the destruction of the traditional definitions of family and marriage.

ON THE LORD’S SIDE

We, as African American Christians, realize that we must articulate an agenda that speaks to both of our identities within the conservative and progressive agenda. The Progressives say to the African American that if we believe in Civil Rights; in the work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who fought in that struggle, then we should vote Democrat.  The Conservatives say that if we as African Americans believe in God and in Christian values, then we should vote Republican: yet, neither party speaks to the totality of issues and concerns of our community.

It is only when we, as a people, begin to articulate an agenda of our own, which speaks to both our moral and our constitutional values, that we can begin to change our communities, and, in turn, our nation. Until that time however, there will be those who seek to define and articulate our agenda for us, and we will continue to be torn between two worlds and at war with one another. If this continues to be the case Beloved, it will not matter who is in the White House.

 

WestAngelesStaff-058-Edit-L

Elder Charles Edward Blake II serves as Assistant Pastor and Director of Community Relations of West Angeles Church of God In Christ, under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Charles Edward Blake, Sr. He received his BS in Marketing from Oral Roberts University, and studied for his MD at the Interdenominational Theological Center. Elder Blake also serves as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Ecumenical Congress.  He and his wife DeAndra are the proud parents of two sons. 

 


VIDEO INSET: Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. discusses human value and a pro-life perspective at the Interfaith Gathering of the 2008 DNC. Video, courtesy of C-Span.

Hear Donnie McClurkin sing his anthem to the church, “Stand”, below:

A Case for Michelle (Not That She Needs It)…

Shara Stewart honors First Lady Michelle Obama and reflects upon the importance of her role in her husband’s historic time in office, on this final day of the Obama Presidency, January 20, 2017.

 

Please click the images below to enlarge the slideshow.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates”

– Proverbs 31:30-31 (NKJV)
 

Michelle Obama is, and will always be, the definitive “Shero” (not a typo… She-Hero) for every little Black girl and every enlightened Black woman. She is the living embodiment of every poem that Maya Angelou has penned, and while everyone sees that Barack continued the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, let us never miss the fact that Michelle Obama has grabbed the baton from Coretta Scott King with a type of grace and poignancy previously unimaginable.

I remember reading an article which indicated that Michelle was somewhat of a reluctant First Lady. I can relate, as I remember being reluctant to take on a certain title of my own (In my case, I had no problem supporting the man and his dream, even when I found that my place in said dMICHELLE wavesream was unclear. But that’s a story for another day). She managed to take my exact fears and show me how to walk right through them. I learned from her. I followed her. I realized, even with my doubts, that I, Shara, could be someone’s Michelle.

And to think, a woman who once wore the same nappy pigtails I did, whose high cheekbones and thick thighs match my own and those of the women in my family, has spent the last eight years planting vegetables on the White House lawn. She did this not because she was paid to, but because she chose to as a hobby. On a slow Sunday morning. Sipping lemonade. My God, my God.

She is the Wife we hope to be, adored, adorned, supported, and completely satisfied by the life she chose and the man she stands behind. She is the Mother we pray God will allow us to be, raising two daughters who are so clearly poised to be queens.

She allowed (YES: allowed) her husband to stand and lead, while knowing that she was just as smart, capable, and competent as he. She shows us the unmistakable beauty and strength in the submission the Bible charges us aspiring Proverbs 31 women to take on. She wears that submission beautifully, knowing that she has chosen to submit to a man who loves her exactly the way that Christ loves the Church.

 

INTELLIGENCE IN MOTION

Michelle has breathed new life into the elegance of intelligence. In my daydreams, I see Barack giving her the rough draft of his official address, and her final edits turn it into the speech he gives to the American people. I listen to his speeches and hear where he chose to use her words. Every time I hear her speak, I am completely convicted and charged to do more, to be more, to study harder, to read one more book; to become who she would want me to be. Her mind is as beautiful as her smile; her mission as powerful as her gait.

She shows us all, but especially us black women and girls, what it looks like to Win. She is undoubtedly herself, and yet, she is all of us.

I thank her. From the bottom of my very very grateful heart. I am nothing but selfish, wishing her four more years as First Lady; not for her sake, or even for the sake of the country, but for my own. I want to watch her just a bit longer. There is more for her to teach me.

Stay “Mo”… stay.


Unless otherwise credited, all photos, Pete Souza for the White House; many thanks.

Obama, Fatherhood, and “Dreams From My Father”

West Angeles honors Father’s Day with a look at 10 principles which helped to develop the leader of the free world, drawn from the autobiography of President Barack Hussein Obama.

We love our men; we love our fathers. You keep our families strong, and you’re the first example of manhood we see as children. No one has endured what you have over the centuries, but overcoming those challenges has made you the strongest men on earth. Now, we need your strength and your vision to rebuild our communities and our families, and to save our children, too.

Ten years ago, I read President Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, which was originally published when Barack Obama was in his early 30s. In it, he spoke of his diverse lineage and racial identity; his troubled youth, the larger-than-life image of his absent father, and his quest to find the meaning of manhood and of his life. In his story, I saw glimpses of the principles our ancestors have used to endure for millenniums: faith, hope, hard work, determination, and love, principles any young person could grow from and any country would thrive through.  

Not long ago, I listened as the President told the backstory of his troubled youth at a conference for men and boys of color at the White House. I wondered if his story was being used in schools, or if the educational system had made his autobiography required reading. If not – especially with the importance of embracing and uplifting American youth of color – then we can certainly start today.

Below is a list of nine principles of fatherhood drawn from “Dreams From My Father” which can help provide the tools needed for parents, mentors, and teachers of African American children, principles which helped shape our president into the man he has become:

The Obama family worships at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia on Easter, 2016.

The Obama family worships at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia on Easter, 2016.

  1. Place God at the center of your family. The Christian faith has played a pivotal, inseparable, role in the African American journey in the United States, and in the ideals and beliefs of the country as a whole. President Obama was raised by his mother, who was raised in a strong Christian household; he and First Lady Michelle Obama also raise their daughters in the Christian faith. Barack Obama realized that the Bible’s stories are our stories too[1]; belief in the Bible’s truths mends the spiritual chain broken by our enslavement, and gives our children a stable foundation from which to build.

 

  1. Accentuate the positive. The National Center for Biotechnology Information recently revealed the results of a study which concluded that positivity is good for your health, and also increases your abilities[2]. These principles are also central to Christian belief. Barack Obama’s family painted a picture of his father as brilliant and confident, even in his absence. Surround your children with positive energy. Speak positively about them, your spouse, and their possibilities.

 

  1. Teach them the power of giving back. Barack Obama displayed at an early age a heart for helping others, and it became the focus of his life’s work. Doing for others out of love increases our power spiritually, and is one of the foremost principles of the Christian faith[3].  
OBAMAfamilythrobk copy

Barack and Michelle Obama with daughters Malia and Sasha, in the early days of parenting.

  1. Teach resilience and determination. Many of us remember growing up with the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”[4].  Throughout the book and throughout his life, Barack Obama, when faced with obstacles, overcame them by consistently reevaluating his  strategies. We can start by allowing our children to witness our own determination in our work, our marriages, and our relationships with them.

 

  1. Be proactive about education. “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom,” said George Washington Carver. Yet, “Without individual memory, a person literally loses his identity,” says historian William McNeil. “The changing perspectives of historical understanding are the very best introduction we can have to the practical problems of real life”[5]. We know that acquiring degrees and trades are important, but central to our success is the knowledge of our African ancestry, and we cannot wait for the schools to include our history in its curriculum. Not only did President Obama’s mother supplement his education by giving him additional lessons before each school day, his teachers also encouraged his thirst for knowledge of his African ancestry.

 

  1.  Limit television and media. Television is not a replacement for strong role models, nor for examples of virtue, integrity, or African American manhood. In fact, recent studies reveal just the opposite, that the media is a “significant contributing factor” in the undermining of our youth, and leads to a majority of society’s ills, including violence, hypersexuality, obesity, and poor health habits[6]. In his book, President Obama often reflected upon the demoralizing, diminishing effect the media had on him as an African American youth, and as President, he often asks families to turn off the television and turn back to reading and homework.

    A young Barack Obama with his father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., in Hawaii, 1960's.

    A young Barack Obama with his father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., in Hawaii, 1960’s.

 

  1. Travel with your children. Traveling gives children a wider perspective of the world and informs the vision of themselves as global citizens. President Obama experienced many cultures at an early age, but even if you can’t leave the country, start with traveling beyond your neighborhood, city or state borders.  

 

  1. Talk to your children; observe them. I noticed in the book that there was constant dialogue between Obama, his family, and  his mentors about life, identity, and purpose. Your observations reveal keys to your child’s purpose early in their life, and enables you to encourage them to pursue not what they want to do with their lives, but what they were born to do. “The safest place to be is in the will of God,” says Bishop Charles E. Blake.

 

  1.  Have hope. Barack Obama had family, mentors,  teachers, and community leaders who never gave up on him. If we have high expectations of our children, they will believe in themselves.

 

As Americans, we must see all children as our own, and not continue to allow fear and ignorance define us. We have much work to do to fulfill the promise America was founded on, but we, as a people, “have come a mighty long way”[7].  Even when we veer off-course, no matter how dire the circumstances, through faith and determination, we always manage to get back on track and overcome our greatest challenges.

 


 

REFERENCES

  1. “Dream From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”, by Barack Obama. August, 2004; Broadway Books.Pg. 294.  
  2. MayoClinic.org: “Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-talk” http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950National Center for Biotechnology Information http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156028/
  1. Matthew 7:11-12.
  2. William Edward Hickson.
  3. William NcNeil; historians.org. http://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/archives/why-study-history-(1985)
  1. Why Media’s Bad for your children- http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1864141,00.html
  1. “Mighty Long Way”; gospel lyrics by Joe Pace.

PHOTOS – Official Obama family photo by Pete Souza; Obama family worship, courtesy, Barack Obama on Twitter; Obama family photos.

Elder Charles Blake II on the Importance of the Black Church

As a part of our Elder’s Corner series, Elder Charles Edward Blake II took time to reflect on the history and importance of the black church. 

“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah. (They were) rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church” – President Barack Obama, in the eulogy for Clementa C. Pinckney, Pastor of Emmanuel AME Church.

As I listened to our President deliver this historic, heartfelt [speech], I was especially drawn to his comments on the historical significance of the black church in American history. I have believed that the black church is as our president described: the beating heart of the black community. The first African American schools, hospitals, farming co-ops, workers unions, and many more aspects of our community, came out of the black church. After the Civil War and slavery had ended, the church was the only institution the black community had to protect our civil rights during Reconstruction.

Years later, however, after the Civil Rights Era, other secular African-American organizations did our civil rights work for us. Today, it would now seem that many of the rights that we gained during that time have either slowly eroded, or have not been realized at all by our community.

“The Black church is as our President described: the beating heart of the black community.” – Elder Charles E. Blake, Jr.

In light of what the church has been to our community in the past, we must continue to question: “Who are we as the church in the present?”

Impacting Our Future

As the church, we have the power to impact nations and transform cities. Yet many of us have not allowed ourselves to be transformed by the Gospel into something new that God can use to help someone else. We praise his name and the Spirit of the Lord is here…there’s no doubt about it! But while this Word, this truth, this gospel is widely believed and agreed upon and we praise the Lord for it, it is a truth we widely take for granted. We have to really ask ourselves: “Is the world a better place because we are in it? Is this a better church because I’m a part of it?”

We are called not only to worship Christ, but also to truly follow him. So, how do we do that? Mark 10:43-45 says:

43 “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

We have to remember beloved, that as members of the body of Christ, we have all been called as missionaries, evangelists, and ministers (Ephesians 4:11). We are here to follow Jesus’ example, to serve even those who we may feel don’t deserve it, in order to be a light to others. The church must be a better church because we are a part of it. The world must be a better place because we are in it.

Like the apostles themselves, we don’t deserve what Christ did for us when He died on the cross. But when we serve others and live our lives with integrity, God can look at our lives as an investment and pour out His blessings. We then honor the price that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ paid for us, and we begin to do our part to become the church He created us to be.

 

Elder Charles Edward Blake II serves as Assistant Pastor and Director of Community Relations of West Angeles Church of God In Christ, under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Charles Edward Blake, Sr. He received his BS in Marketing from Oral Roberts University, and studied for his MD at the Interdenominational Theological Center. Elder Blake also serves as the General Manager of the Los Angeles Ecumenical Congress.  He and wife DeAndra are the proud parents of two sons. 

Pay your pledge online!  To donate to the West Angeles FAMILY LIFE CAMPAIGN, please click HERE.

President Defines Meaning of Black Church in Rev. Pinckney Eulogy

President Barack Obama extolled the accomplishments and amazing life of Reverend and Democratic Senator Clementa Pinckney, the miracle of God’s Grace, and the true meaning of the African American Church during the eulogy he delivered in honor of Rev. Pinckney on June 26. The Reverend was slain, along with eight members of his congregation as they prayed and studied the Bible, in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on the evening of June 17.

The President began his remarks at the memorial service by “giving all praise and honor to God,” then quoted a passage from the New Testament:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. – Hebrews 11:13

President Obama eloquently described Rev. Pinckney as a model American citizen who came from a long line of Christian pastors, who exemplified Christian service, resilience, empathy, and fortitude, and who was beloved by his family and fellow U.S. senators.

The President went on to describe the African American church as representative of the true soul of America’s foundation, calling it “A sacred place…Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.”

Racism, apathy, injustice, the Confederate flag, and gun violence were also included in the eulogy. The President ended by singing the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by the thousands of memorial service attendees.

Highlights from this service follow:

“To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life, a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.”

“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout ‘Hallelujah!’ Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.”

“[Black Churches] have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart, and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church.”

“That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate. When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes.”

“When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.”

“A sacred place…Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all…That’s what the black church means” – President Barack H. Obama

“We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches… as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.”

“Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.”

“He didn’t know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.”

“…I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.’”

“We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway. And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.”

“For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present…Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.”

“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.”

 “History can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past” – President Barack H. Obama

“By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.”

“Reverend Pinckney once said, ‘Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history. What is true in the South is true for America.’”

“ …Justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past; how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world…the path of grace involves an open mind but, more importantly, an open heart.”

“If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change.”

“Clementa Pinckney found that grace. Cynthia Hurd found that grace. Susie Jackson found that grace. Ethel Lance found that grace. DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace. Tywanza Sanders found that grace. Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace. Myra Thompson found that grace.”

“Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.”

__________________

FOOTNOTES

John Newton, William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” from Olney Hymns.  England, 1779; page 53.

Eulogy transcript, courtesy, Whitehouse.gov (accessed 6/29/2015). https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/06/26/remarks-president-eulogy-honorable-reverend-clementa-pinckney

See the entire service below; video, courtesy, C-Span.

 

 

10 Inspiring Quotes on American Independence, Liberty, and Freedom

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect upon the American ideals which have guided us thus far toward becoming the greatest nation on earth:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

-From The Declaration of Independence

 

“We are persuaded that good Christians will always be good citizens, and that where righteousness prevails among individuals the Nation will be great and happy. Thus while just government protects all in their religious rights, true religion affords to government it’s surest support”.

–  George Washington

 

Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us, a nation.

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”

– From the American National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key

 

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,

‘til earth and heaven rings;

Rings with the harmonies of liberty.

– From “The Negro National Anthem,” James Weldon Johnson and  J. Rosamond Johnson

 

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts: not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution”.

– Abraham Lincoln

 

“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right”.

-Abraham Lincoln

 

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day”.

-From  “I Have A Dream,” the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

My country ‘tis of thee

Sweet land of liberty; of thee I sing.

Land where our fathers died; land of the Pilgrim’s pride;

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

-From “America,” Samuel Francis Smith

 

America, America, God sheds His grace on thee.

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

-From “America The Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates

 

“Our  trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal…In chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t feel ashamed about; memories more accessible than those of ancient Egypt, memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild”.

-From “Dreams From My Father,”  President Barack Obama
Have a Blessed Independence Day, From West Angeles Church of God In Christ!

 

 

Obama, Manhood, and “Dreams From My Father”- Part I

How does a Black boy without a father grow up to be the most powerful man on the planet?  The answer may surprise you.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the paperback release of “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” the autobiography originally published in 1995 by a then-unknown political hopeful named Barack Obama. By 2004, when the paperback edition was published, America had just taken notice of this uber-intelligent man of the world – then a senator from Illinois – after he’d given a historic keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.  

Fast-forward 10 years to 2014 and Barack Hussein Obama is in his second term as the 44th President of the United State. However, studies show* that the state of the African American male as a whole has remained a cause for concern:

  • 53% of black men aged 25-34 are either unemployed or earn too little to lift a family of four from poverty

  • At comparable educational levels, black men earn 67% of what White men earn

  • The chance of going to prison is highest among black males (32.2%)

  • 1.4 million black men out of a total voting population of 10.4 million have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions

  • Black men are 30% more likely to suffer a heart attack, and 60% more likely to suffer a stroke

And as scores of well-meaning non-profits develop program after program which attempt to help black men regain their footing in America, I remember President Obama’s autobiography which kept me engaged and inspired just 10 years before. I can’t help but wonder:

“Has anyone actually studied the life of our first African American President: leader of the Free World; the most powerful man on the planet today?  What practices,  beliefs, and ideals does he value, which could also serve as a road map to help uplift other African American men, and in turn, America as a nation?  What molded this man into one who would go where most believed an African American man never would?”

Below is a list of 11 principles revealed in “Dreams From My Father” which have made our President the man he is today; principles which have always been the cornerstone of the African American journey, and which uphold the American principles our nation was founded on:

1. Make God first in your life. We’ve already been told this by parents and grandparents, but guess what? Our president actually believes this, too. President Obama was raised by his mother, who was raised in a strong Christian household. And when it was time for him to choose the faith which would carry him into his own adult years –  in spite of the many cultures, faiths, and ideas he’d been exposed to throughout his childhood – he chose to follow Christ. His understanding of the biblical principles of faith, hope and love are a reflection of the moral and spiritual codes which govern his work and his life. Research shows that the strongest cultures are those with a central faith at its core; it’s faith through which all other aspects of a society flow. America, when at its best, from its inception and from the establishment of the Declaration of Independence, to the abolition of slavery and the passing of The Civil Rights Amendment, has risen beyond its greatest challenges by adhering to principles rooted in The Bible.

2. Correct your flaws. I saw a consistent theme throughout his book: Obama repents. Self-examination is always his response to pain, which then leads to purging and healing. He is also very determined and focused, and also always examines his own heart upon realizing he’s hurt others. Even his journey to Kenya to find his father ultimately lead to finding himself. The fundamental principle of the American Dream is the ability to become, through hard work and perseverance, the best we were created to be, and that starts with soul-searching and repentance.  

3. Get an education.  His paternal grandfather learned a trade through apprenticeship; his father used the opportunity of obtaining an American ivy-league education as a means of escaping an oppressive life in Kenya, pursuing a desire to be the man he knew he could be. A young Barack Obama attended Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School, but even the education he received from the village elders in Africa was just as instrumental to his ability to grow and to develop into a man. See education not as a destination, but as a way of life, a quality he learned from his maternal grandfather. Be a lifelong learner; be teachable.  

3. Know your history. His Mother knew that neither she nor the schools he attended could provide her son with the solid foundation he’d need to grow into a strong black man. As a result, she woke him up each day before school to supplement his education by plying him with African history lessons and other subjects. As a result, he developed a desire to learn his own personal history through books and through his father’s people in Kenya.

4. Use your gifts and skills. Civil Rights attorney, orator, and writer; Obama developed and used his gifts for the greater good, always driven to answer the unseen moral question. Making the most of your talents and “working with your hands” is the key to survival and prosperity in life. It’s why we’ve been blessed with the skills we have.

5.  Do for others. Give back to the less fortunate; to important causes, to family, community, mankind. President Obama was driven to make the world a better place; becoming a community organizer and lawyer for the people, heeding and answering a greater call on each leg of his journey. Doing for others in love engages the spirit and makes you stronger, and it’s what we were biologically created to do.

6. Travel. It increases your view of the world and your place in it. Through travel, you gain a unique view of the world outside your community, your state, your country, and it changes your perspective on life.  If you can, take the opportunity to live in a place other than that of where you were born. Before settling in Chicago, President Obama traveled to or lived in communities in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Indonesia, Europe and Africa, giving him a unique, global view of our world, our country, our needs and our strengths.

7. Cultivate brotherhood with other strong, Godly men. Early in his life, President Obama was introduced to strong African American men who were his grandfather’s friends, and later in life he sought out his own nurturing relationships. The security and wisdom provided by these bonds are established within our friendships and our churches, but are also found in relationships created through mentors, fraternities and civic organizations. Bonds with other men can strengthen your personal community, “extending your village” and knowledge base beyond family ties.

8. Get married and stay married. Be husband to one wife.  Marriage multiplies you, not just by the number of children you produce, but also mentally, physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually. Studies show that married men live longer, and the majority of health-conscious men are married, too.

9. Cultivate fatherhood. President Obama did not have his father physically in his life, but he diligently sought the meaning of manhood and fatherhood through those who knew his dad, and also through the wisdom of other strong men in his life.  Seeking inspiration and guidance  is also essential to being a good father.  Accepting the sacrifices fatherhood requires is part of being a strong man.

10.  Accept your mantle. By chapter 14, Barack Obama had established himself within the Chicago grassroots political community. He also  sensed that in order to make real change, he would have to further his education. At that moment, three events supernaturally converged: he was accepted to Harvard Law School, he found his church home, and beloved Chicago Mayor Harold Washington passed away, a man who, at the time, many dared to dream that he could be our first African American president.

11. Live for your purpose. When you pursue your purpose in life, commit your purpose to a higher authority. Barack Obama finished the Harvard education that his father did not, and became the embodiment not only of his father’s dreams, but also the dreams of a nation.

When African American men rise to the challenge God has set before them as the cornerstone of this nation, only then will America rise up to its full potential too. To quote our president from that now-historic 2004 speech:

“In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead…I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs, and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us…and this country will reclaim its promise.”

PART I of a two-part series. Check Westa.org for Part II, which will focus on fatherhood and raising strong black boys.

See the historic 2004 Democratic Convention Speech below:

DID YOU KNOW?

Many institutions of higher learning now offer free classes online. Known as “Open Course Ware” (OCW), the classes are offered at schools around the world.  See the links below to find schools and courses of study:

https://www.coursera.org/

http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses

 

Our thanks:

“Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” by Barack Obama.  Copyright, 1995, 2004, Barack Obama. Originally published in hard cover in 1995 by Times Books, and imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Subsequently published in paperback, with preface and keynote address, in 2004 by Three Rivers Press, also and imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

Photos, courtesy of Pete Souza. Video, courtesy of C-Span.

*Statistics and references, courtesy Whitehouse.gov, the US Census bureau, the Economic Policy Institute, Harvard.edu., abcnews.go.com., The Black Star Project.