Dr. Cornel West, an American philosopher and a specialist of religion, advises us that Black clergy and the Black church “are already playing an important, even if not sufficient, role in holding back the meaninglessness and hopelessness that impinges on large numbers of Black people.”
In support of this observation, DeKalb’s Black clergy and churches shared information about some of the work they are doing to support Black youth during a meeting held March 2 at Fairfield Baptist Church. As the clergypersons who spoke at the meeting said, we need to do much, much more to make our communities whole.
In the past, given Black opposition to racial proscription in any form, pursuits such as those described by church leaders at Fairfield could easily have implied accommodating the status quo of racial discrimination and segregation.
Clearly, in these post-Jim Crow days and the prevailing strong anti-government sentiments, growing numbers of Blacks see no inherent moral problem with the pursuit of race interest activities or programs.
Indeed, like many ethnic groups that have maintained a high level of group consciousness in their pursuit of cultural, political, economic and social values, many Blacks now feel it necessary to do likewise.
Specifically, many Black churches are motivated by racial self-interest in a new way, and no longer feel they are betraying their ideal societal vision by working vigorously for such racial goals as: political determination, economic development, preservation of predominately Black schools (private and public), construction of senior living communities, working against voter suppression, and encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation.
In fact, noted historians and theologians—such as Michael Eric Dyson, Manning Marable, Cornel West and Robert M. Franklin—identify Rev. Jesse Jackson as evidencing these tendencies and appealing to the same type of values in his efforts to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for president of the United States in 1984 and 1988.
During each campaign, Jackson, one of the most gifted public moralists and intellectuals, crisscrossed the nation using his rhetorical eloquence and insight to address minority issues and to challenge Americans to support justice and equality for all.
Consistent with Jackson’s effort to forge coalitions and inspire involvement in 1988, he selected Mike Mears, then-mayor of Decatur, and me, then a state senator, to serve as his campaign co-chairmen for Georgia. We were ably assisted with adequate human and financial resources from Black churches throughout the state via the leadership of Revs. Cameron Alexander, Jasper Williams Sr. and William Smith, along with many other very capable volunteers who assisted in winning the Georgia primary for Jackson.
Historically, Jackson has largely lived up to Dr. King’s belief that leaders be wise, in love with justice, strategic in their plans to affect transformation, and place the interest of the people over self-interest.
To be sure, Jackson has been accused of unprincipled acts and in 2001 it was revealed that he fathered a child out of wedlock after having an extramarital affair with an aide.
Certainly, these indiscretions raised difficult questions about leadership and morality, and the belief of many that a leader needs to be pure to be effective.
Jackson’s situation illustrates the need to acknowledge that leaders are not perfect and will occasionally reveal their flaws. Likewise, be aware that one does not have to be pure to be effective. Nevertheless, we must hold leaders accountable for their actions and/or transgressions. In this regard, Jackson acknowledged his failure, sought forgiveness from his family and supporters, and took responsibility for his daughter. The record shows that he is willing to practice the same type of moral accountability that he preaches.
In spite of Jackson’s human weaknesses, more leaders like him are needed—who have been anointed as a pastor, possess political skills, a broad moral vision and willingness to be held accountable—to move this country forward.
Clergy of DeKalb, in an effort to halt the disintegration of family and societal values, and combat the harmful effects of materialism and consumerism, Professor Cornel West tells us that “people are looking for places where some value and meaning can be found, outside of a market-base conception of life, and this is where a prophetic church—a prophetic political movement—can play a role.”
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