The Detroit chapter of the NAACP held its annual Freedom Weekend Celebration on April 25, 26, and 27, 2008.
I attended a pair of panel discussions Saturday—the first concerned “Which Way, Young Black America: Democrat, Republican, or Independent?”
There were eight panelists, and among issues discussed were of course the presidential candidates, and the most attention was given to the “Proposal 2”, the successful effort to ban Affirmative Action statutes from all educational institutions in the state (and IMO, unofficially, other institutions). Among panelists were Munson Steed of Rolling Out Magazine, and editor Bankole Thompson of the Michigan Chronicle, one of a few remaining historically black newspapers in the country. Local educator and Detroit resident Akindele Akinyemi (http://whoisakindele.info/), self-identified as a Republican, offered that he sees nothing wrong with black pride, and he’s no fan of G.W. Bush nor John McCain, but supports certain GOP platform items like school choice/vouchers and leans conservatively on the ‘morals’ issues (unspoken but presumably abortion, etc.); giving some information on his own background, he said that it wasn’t until after he graduated college that he found out that blacks had historically supported the GOP until the civil rights movement spurred the shift.
Steed offered his opinion that many large corporations—he pointed out Starbucks (Magic Johnson’s stakeholder position notwithstanding)—tend not to advertise in urban/black media publications and despite arguably having a black constituency for their product, really do little or nothing to have a genuine relationship with black communities (I would offer that Starbucks’ policy of mandatory tip-pooling and Chairman/Chief Executive Howard Schultz’ defiance at a lawsuit decision regarding this probably doesn’t help) . He also claimed that no black-owned corporation has gone public since Cathy Hughes’ Media One several years ago. Other issues that came up inevitably concerned hip-hop and the role that contemporary musicians are thought to have—or should have—concerning the voting process. Sean Combs’ 2004 “Vote or Die” campaign was mentioned—unmentioned was the fact that apparently he chose not to vote in the 2004 elections (I believe that rap musicians can certainly get people’s attention when it comes to voter registration—certainly when they speak, fans tend to pay attention. Still, it’s not terribly realistic to expect most of these folks to be any more informed than the average person when it comes to certain issues—though, as often as some of them get arrested, some could probably benefit as spokespersons for drug-law reform and prison-reform advocacy.) Most panelists reiterated the thought that voters should be encouraged to participate but to have some discernment on the issues that are important to them, and not to just assume allegiance uncritically.
The next workshop panel was the “Town Hall Meeting”. Here, panelists- two women, six men, some local, others from other cities—were all pastors of various churches. First though, there was 15 minutes of footage shown from the forthcoming CNN documentary—“Black in America”— a six-part series, narrated by Soledad O’Brien, concerning several topics concerning the modern state of black Americans. The first part will be “Black Men”; the second part “Black Women & the Black Family”; the third part will be a re-examination of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. The footage shown was of the King segment, and it showed O’Brien as she gets a tour of the hotel where Dr. King was killed; there are also interviews from people who were present that day, including ministers in Dr. King’s camp, as well as firefighters and police who were on the scene that day. Two producers who worked on the documentary were present to answer questions about the overall project. When asked of the veracity of a straight-up government plot to murder Dr. King, the producers acknowledged the COINTELPRO existence and the open hatred that the Hoover regime had for Dr. King and the civil rights leaders, but stopped short of saying that it was the FBI/CIA who murdered him. I asked the producers how much the overall documentary gets into the presence of blacks in the (journalist) media, i.e. newspapers, magazines, and TV—not just on-air folks and anchors but news directors/program directors and other decision-makers, to make for more diverse newsrooms—and, ideally, more diverse news. They answered that the overall documentary doesn’t really get into that, but during the forthcoming Essence Festival in New Orleans later this year there will likely be a panel that delves into this topic.
Roland Martin of CNN was a co-moderator (along with local Detroit radio personality Ms. Frankie Darcell), and as the panel conversation switched to what the black church’s role should be with respect to social justice: Is it important to continue the legacy of Dr. King, or is it paramount (as Christians) to continue the legacy of Christ?
It wasn’t hard to figure that the specter of the controversy about Dr. Jeremiah Wright was the recurring issue being addressed. All the attending pastors (including Rasul Muhammad of the Nation of Islam) spoke of their support for Dr. Wright and the mis-portrayal of his history and views. Martin offered a question to all panelists on how current their congregations were with respect to state-of-the-art technology—pointing out that it was roughly three weeks after the Wright controversy first hit before members of Dr. Wright's Trinity Church uploaded the entire sermon that was previously chopped up by various news outlets, and that “right wing evangelicals” have their tech-preparedness resources well in hand when it comes to circulating their points of view.
Panelists also offered that denominational divisions weaken blacks politically, and some added that pastors who “eat of the King’s meat”, i.e. allow themselves to be too close to the political establishment, are misleading their congregations; other questions challenged the black church to do further outreach and services to people in the community beyond the “converted”.
At the Sunday dinner, where Dr. Wright was to be the keynote speaker, awards were given to Eleanor Josaitis of local machinist-training program/non-profit center Focus: Hope and Soledad O’Brien, among others. Speakers who made brief remarks before Dr. Wright included Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D), Michigan senators Carl Levin (D) & Debbie Stabenow (D), Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter. Dr. Wright’s keynote address directly answered the controversies about certain sermons, playing video clips and explaining what was not shown. He further pointed out the various differences in black church culture in comparison to white church culture, and how black mannerisms, cadence, humor, and certainly music, inform the experience in a way that is markedly different from how the aggregates of whites tend to experience church—a major component, from his point of view, in how he was portrayed as a ‘cultist’, among other things. He made no apologies for his sermons, pointing out that in their full context, they were not what certain people were making them out to be (giving a brief ‘shout-out’ to suburban politicos who expressed skepticism over his invitation to the event- "I'm sorry your local political analysts are saying I'm polarizing and my sermons are divisive. I'm not here to address an analyst's opinion. I stand here as one representative of the African-American church tradition, believing that a change is going to come.") Despite retiring from Trinity Church, Dr. Wright said that he will continue to speak on various matters of import, especially concerning the black community.
A leaflet was passed on to me by a lady while I was at one of the panels. I suspected who it was about when she gave it to me, but it was still amusing to read:
In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia (Virginia Union) and voluntarily joined the Marines.
In 1963 this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. The man did so well in corpsman school that he was chosen to be class valedictorian. In fact, he ultimately became a cardiopulmonary technician.
He was assigned to the Navy’s premier hospital, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the Commander in Chief’s Medical Team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after Pres. Johnson’s 1966 surgery.
For his service on the team (which he left in 1967), the White House awarded him three letters of commendation. What is even more remarkable is that this man entered that Marines and Navy not many years after these two branches began to become integrated.
While this young man was serving six years on active duty, future Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was borne the same year as the Marine/sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student, and one for being a prospective father. Future Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than this African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both avoided going on active overseas military duty.
Who is the real patriot? The young man who interrupted his studies to serve his country for six years, or our three political leaders who beat the system? Are the patriots the people who actually sacrifice something, or those who merely talk about their love of the country?
After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America’s biggest cities. Who is this devoted patriot?
…Kind readers, I suspect you know the answer, too.