The Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest and Philadelphia’s largest newspaper serving the African-American community, honored 10 people who have been named Philadelphia’s “Most Influential” African Americans, at a private reception for 400 guests on Thursday evening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The guest list included elected officials, education leaders, businesspersons, community activists and labor leaders.
“It is a significant opportunity for us, because we are the only people in this town to recognize men and women who make the contributions to this city, and frequently this nation, who go unrecognized,” said Tribune President and CEO Robert W. Bogle.
“And so we made a commitment to make sure we are included - all those who are entitled to equal access and opportunity, and those who make an impression and influence the decisions that make us a better community.”
In addition, Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, and Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, received special recognition for their impact on the community at large. The Philadelphia Tribune also commemorated Cheyney University for its 175th anniversary.
“We have been doing this for more than 10 years,” said Tribune Magazine Editor Shonda McClain. “This is a great event for us to honor our own, and to celebrate their accomplishments. These are the people that people don’t always know about - the people in the trenches – that are doing the hard work everyday, and this our way of saying, thank you, and honoring those people for the work that they do and the contributions that they make to our community.”
On Sunday Sept. 16, the Tribune will publish a special edition of Tribune Magazine, featuring its annual list of 10 People Under 40 to Watch, African-American Leaders, and Movers & Shakers of the Delaware Valley, who demonstrate leadership beyond their positions.
If School Reform Commission officials were caught a little flat-footed during a recent community meeting at Enon Baptist Church in which more than 2,500 people attended, then they should be prepared for a Tuesday May 22 meeting at 6:30 at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 12th St. and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
SRC officials can expect the same sort of probing questions they received from attendees during the Enon meeting; only this time several other organizations are taking part, including Occupy Philly, ACTION United and the Service Employees International Union, which represents the majority of school district employees not covered by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The Bright Hope meeting represents the next in a series of community-orchestrated meetings, in which neighborhood leaders gather with other concerned stakeholders to discuss the School District of Philadelphia’s plan. Although not an officially sanctioned meeting of the SRC, district officials are often invited — and often do attend.
The meeting is bound to revolve around District Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen’s drastic reorganization blueprint, which calls for the closure of 64 schools, the privatization of crucial scholastic and academic services and a complete restructuring of the programs and offices at district headquarters downtown, among other measures meant to bring the district to a state of solvency.
“We are facing an education emergency in Philadelphia. Outside consultants are proposing to destroy the Philadelphia Public School System and cut thousands of living-wage jobs,” said activist Rita Addessa in an email to supporters, which cited other blueprint moves such as turning many of the remaining public schools into private charters. “The proposal does not talk about things that are known to work in improving education: lowering class sizes, [having] a highly qualified, experienced teacher in every classroom, and clean and safe schools.”
Also up for discussion will be District Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon’s own plan for academic restructuring, which will alter not only the way principals run and manage their schools, but the way teachers deliver instruction as well.
“Officials have laid out their plan, and folks are unhappy, but we really haven’t heard a lot about an alternate vision,” said Roland Ferguson, of the Southwest Chapter of ACTION United. “That’s what we are going to do on Tuesday. People not only want to hear about the proposed changes, they want to make sure the needs of their children and their neighborhoods are being considered in the process. We’re going to lay out an alternative to the plan that includes the priorities of the community, parents and students.”
Bright Hope Baptist Church pastor D. Kevin R. Johnson will lead the meeting, during which members of the community will present photos, drawings and essays from area public school students depicting what they believe a good school should look like and include.
School funding is bound to be a hotly-contested issue, especially given Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s recent remarks, where he essentially blamed school districts throughout the commonwealth for fiscal mismanagement; Corbett also claimed that many school districts are sitting on reserves that they could tap into in order to save crucial programs.
School district officials have denied the district has any surplus or reserves, and confirmed that it is still experiencing a budgetary shortfall for the current year — and is still predicting a major gap for the next academic year.
“We reject the notion that there is no money for schools when they are building new prisons,” Ferguson said. “We need our officials to be listening to the community and looking for creative solutions, rather than trying to solve the funding crisis on the backs of students, or by outsourcing jobs.
“The people that work in the schools are parents and neighbors too.”
Graduation is a milestone. And with one week away from embarking on a journey of new experiences, life changes and countless opportunities, several students in the Class of 2012 have more to celebrate.
The Philadelphia Tribune and Wells Fargo Student Achievers Reception recognized 66 high school seniors — who have made academic accomplishments while under challenging circumstances — on June 6 at the Union League of Philadelphia.
The Tribune’s president and CEO, Robert W. Bogle, greeted the students and their families and gave a congratulatory message.
“Today we honor students who have displayed an unwavered commitment to academic excellence,” he said. “Despite a number of challenges and obstacles, our student honorees, have managed in a very meaningful way to achieve something that will be important for many of your tomorrows. And that is the first step towards this journey called success.”
Bogle also recognized Constance E. Clayton for attending the event. She is the first woman and first African-American superintendent of schools in Philadelphia.
Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan, vice president of community affairs manager of Wells Fargo was the master of ceremonies, and Rev. Tamieka N. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church gave the invocation.
Thomas Knudsen, acting superintendent and chief recovery officer of the School District of Philadelphia and Pedro A. Ramos, Esq., chairman of the School Reform Commission gave remarks.
“Each and every one of you graduates has marshaled his or her resources and accomplished something real and meaningful that will be with you for all the days of your lives,” he said. “And you have done so in the face of personal challenges that would have held others back. That makes you true heroes.”
“Commit to being an aggressively life long learner,” Ramos said. “Everyday for the rest of your life seek out new knowledge and better understanding of different cultures and different ideas.”
The keynote speaker, Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church offered words of encouragement to the students. While sharing the story of his life growing up, Johnson used an analogy of chickens and eagles. He challenged the students not to act as their peers and be timid, but be rare individuals who aren’t afraid to achieve success.
“Maybe you have gone through the struggles and challenges in your own life just so you can begin to fly,” Johnson said. “It’s now time for you to launch. And as you get ready to launch, I want you to know, don’t forget this moment when you heard someone tell you to not become a chicken, but to dare to become an eagle.”
Mayor Michael Nutter and Wells Fargo Regional President Vincent Liuzzi, were also in attendance. Liuzzi presented a $25,000 check to the City of Philadelphia Office of Education’s organization PhillyGoes2College, which helps Philadelphians of all ages earn a college degree.
Among the awardees at the reception was high school senior, Christopher Miller of Carver Engineering and Sciences High School. Miller said he was honored to be recognized.
“I’m proud of myself. I had no idea what is was at first, and then my mom told me and a couple kids from school told me,” Miller said. “It means a lot.”
This fall, Miller will attend Morehouse College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history, he plans to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania.
Within his four years of school, Miller has lost both his maternal and paternal grandfathers to cancer. Despite this emotional burden, Leah Tate, Miller’s mother said that she is proud of his accomplishments and knew that he had the ability to push through.
“He was never the kid to stand outside,” Tate said. “He always went to school and home. Everybody knew that Chris is the scholar. I’m extremely proud. Christopher is extraordinary in many ways. He’s going to Morehouse College and he did everything on his own.”
She also encourages other parents with children entering high school in the fall.
“Besides starting to make sure that they stay active, but give a little,” Tate said. “Let them go out and experience things. Don’t be scared. I didn’t achieve it for myself, but I wasn’t scared for my son.”
The Black community and children in Philadelphia are once again the casualties of political war.
The Fact Finding Report to Mayor Michael A. Nutter Concerning Charter Operator Selection Process of the Martin Luther King School released last Thursday unveiled another tragic story of discord and power plays amongst Black leaders and politicians.
Sadly, buried under the mountain of political debris are the futures of our children and community. As a pastor and father, my heart is grieved by the political fighting and infighting. Now, more than ever, our community is in desperate need of courageous, selfless leaders solely focused on the best interests of our great City.
The report by Joan Markman is not just disconcerting because of her conclusions. Most disturbing is the continuing revelation that some of the most powerful Black leaders in Philadelphia simply could not find a way to work together, not even for the betterment of the impoverished and politically inept.
Do you mean to tell me that when only sixty-three percent of our children are graduating from high school and much fewer matriculate into college that we can’t put aside political discord and take action that is in their best interest? When thirty-one percent of African Americans in Philadelphia are living in poverty, we can’t trust our leaders to forego political vengeance and instead coalesce around a promising vision? To say the least, we are in serious trouble in Philadelphia.
Machtpolitik, or “power politics,” is how twentieth century international scholar, Martin Wight, would have labeled this latest fiasco. Power politics occurs when those in power seek to protect their own interests by threatening another with military, economic, or political aggression. “Power tends to corrupt,” Sir John Dalberg-Acton contended, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
While we will never completely know the full story of who was involved in the MLK High School debacle, one has to ask some critical questions. What was the machtpolitik in the MLK school debate? Why did the Markman report only surface after the superintendent was released and three days after the SRC chair resigned? What is really occurring, given this is a mayoral election year and November 1st is less than six weeks away?
The Markman Inquiry clearly is being utilized as a political apparatus and cannot be viewed as completely objective. The report, at best, reveals instances of poor judgment and, perhaps, meetings and conversations that should not have been had. However, it neither uncovers any illegalities nor provides remedies to improve the quality of education or the quality of life for the citizens of Philadelphia. Ultimately, the report engages in character assassination of Black leaders and political repositioning while many in our community continue to be disenfranchised, uneducated, and unemployed.
So where do the unfortunate and tragic events of 2011 leave Blacks in Philadelphia? Where do we go from here when our Harvard-trained, pro-parent superintendent is gone, a distinguished corporate lawyer’s reputation is tarnished, a politically-powerful legislator is sullied, the only Black, female lobbyist in Philadelphia is implicated and the judgment/competence of a promising interim superintendent is questioned?
“To be a poor man is hard,” said W.E.B. DuBois, “but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”
Beloved, to be a “poor race” and at “the very bottom of hardships” is unacceptable. While we throw darts at one another, the larger community manages to hold onto multi-million dollar contracts. Are Archie and Evans “godfathers,” or could they be the smoke screen for the City’s “true godfathers” who have benefited for years off the backs of Philadelphia’s taxpayers and the masses of poor Black and Brown children whose large numbers provide a great profit for many interested parties? In sum, it is not about a $50 million five-year contract, a strong-willed Black woman, or even our undereducated and continually underserved children — it is about control of a $3 billion school district budget.
Yes, the crisis of Black leadership in Philadelphia is a moral issue and a responsibility. Most of our wounds are self-inflicted. If we continue on this trajectory, we will become, as DuBois prophetically warned us, “like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged [our] brightness.”
To be quite honest, we, as parents, citizens and community-minded people, must expect more from our leaders. We realize they will inevitably disagree, but their disagreements should never rise above the interests of the community or stymie our collective advancement or progress. Whatever the reasons for this most recent family feud, it must cease and cease immediately.
Clearly there has been a misuse of power. In the past, Black people have not always had power to determine their destiny. Today we do.
In a city where the leadership ranks include a Black mayor, Black district attorney, Black police chief, Black fire chief, Black majority leader of City Council and, until recently, a Black SRC chair, school superintendent, and chair of Appropriations of the Commonwealth’s House of Representatives, we have the wherewithal to do better to yield better results for our community. We can no longer afford to get bogged down in territorial warfare. When we do, we all lose.
We need our Black leaders to put aside their differences and work together. Black families in Philadelphia are in the wilderness. Lives are at stake, futures are on hold, dreams are deferred and our children and community are failing because we are failing them.
If Blacks are ever to reach their full potential in Philadelphia and our great country, then we must understand and adhere to Dr. King’s call for unity: “…somehow, and in some way…We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will all perish together as fools.”
As always, let’s keep the faith and remember “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Dr. Kevin R. Johnson is the senior pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church.
An invitation to the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, to be the baccalaureate speaker May 18 at his alma mater, Morehouse College, has been rescinded.
Johnson was informed of the decision by Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. in an April 15 phone call from Atlanta.
According to a press release from Citizens for Change — a group of prominent Morehouse graduates — Wilson’s decision was based on concerns Johnson expressed in an op-ed article that appeared in The Tribune on April 14. In the commentary, Johnson voiced displeasure about President Barack Obama’s lack of Black appointees in his cabinet.
The release said Wilson felt the article was “untimely” given that Obama is scheduled to be the 2013 commencement speaker on May 19.
On April 15 and April 16, which the release added coincided with the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Wilson contacted Johnson and encouraged him to resign as the speaker. Johnson rebuffed Wilson’s suggestion.
Wilson, according to the release, then approached Johnson with a compromise. He proposed that Johnson agree to being one of three speakers for the event. Johnson refused, citing that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker, and all initial representations made to him.
Reached Saturday via e-mail, Johnson said, “What has made Morehouse such a premier institution is its commitment to critical thinking, free thought, and free speech. Morehouse teaches her students not to accept the status quo, but to ask the critical ‘why’ and then do something about it, just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maynard Jackson, Julian Bond, and others did, to uplift African-American people.
“This is a defining moment for Morehouse,” he added. “The Morehouse brand is that she has a 146-year history of producing men who are progressive leaders, critical thinkers, committed to changing the world. I am deeply rooted in this tradition and will continue to devote my life to Morehouse and her ideals.”
On April 17, Johnson sent Wilson a letter insisting the college president honor his original invitation. Wilson then replaced Johnson with three new baccalaureate speakers — the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and a graduating senior.
According to the release, the college posted Warnock and Moss’ names as speakers on its website on April 23 but removed them on April 25 after Warnock and Moss withdrew their names.
However on its website Saturday, the school listed Warnock, Moss and the Rev. Reginald Wayne Sharpe Jr., a member of the class of 2013, as speakers.
Johnson said he is prepared to speak at the event.
“If my beloved alma mater honors its initial commitment to the 2013 Baccalaureate speaker, I will attend and deliver the message God has already given me: ‘Morehouse Men Are Called to be Eagles,’” he said via e-mail.
In the release, Johnson said, “I have always been and continue to be a supporter of President Obama. The issue is not about the article in question, but about Morehouse’s longstanding history and pedagogy of free thought and free speech. Without free thought and free speech, Morehouse would not have produced our most admired alumnus, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Several noted Morehouse College almuni are members of Citizens for Change.
“Kevin is not just a Morehouse man,” said the Rev. Calvin Butts, senior pastor of The Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, president of SUNY Old Westbury, and a member of the group. In the release Butts said, “he is a stellar example of the college’s rich tradition of producing outstanding leaders in this century who are well-educated, forward-thinking, community-conscious, and global citizens.”
The alumni group wants Wilson to reaffirm and honor his invitation to Johnson.
“If President Wilson turns his back on one of our most distinguished alums because of an exercise of free speech and political commentary, he will have set Morehouse on a dangerous course and departed from the great tradition bequeathed to us,” said the Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, senior pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco in the release. “In 1947, Dr. King warned that, ‘If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!’ We are potentially witnessing the realization of King’s greatest fears.”
Wilson was unavailable for comment.
What started out as a respectful article critical of the lack of qualified African-American appointees in President Barack Obama’s cabinet and a perceived lack of policies specifically designed to help America’s poor is turning out to be a war of words between the pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church and the president of Morehouse College.
Maybe it was all just a misunderstanding, or an incorrect interpretation about what was or wasn’t said - but Bright Hope Baptist Church’s pastor, Kevin R. Johnson, in a letter dated April 17, 2003, lashed out at John S. Wilson, president of Morehouse College about his disappointment that he was being indirectly asked to remove himself as the 2013 Baccalaureate speaker because of an op-ed piece that was highly critical of the policies and cabinet appointments of President Barack Obama.
The president will be speaking during Morehouse’s upcoming 129th commencement ceremonies that will be held on May 19, 2013. Johnson was also scheduled to speak during the baccalaureate service that will be held on May 18. Later he learned that instead of being the sole speaker, he was to be one of three speakers, a decision that he alleges was made because of the critical tone of his op-ed piece.
Johnson said he was concerned about Morehouse College’s long standing tradition of educating and training forward thinking young African-American men. Some of Black America’s most influential men graduated from the historically Black college; Martin Luther King Jr., actor Samuel L. Jackson, film director Spike Lee, politicians Maynard Jackson and Chuck Burris and scholar and author Lerone Bennett Jr., just to name a few.
In his letter to Wilson, Johnson wrote that he believed he was being “disinvited” to be the 2013 baccalaureate speaker because of the article. Johnson also wrote that he was “surprised and disappointed” by a phone call from Wilson expressing his “personal displeasure” with the op-ed piece. Repeated phone calls by Tribune reporters to reach Wilson for comment were unsuccessful.
“I have not heard from the college or Dr. Wilson,” Johnson said in a brief telephone interview. “The initial offer was for me to be the Baccalaureate speaker, it was not for me to be one of three. I am a man of principle, and so whatever a person’s word is, I stick with that — and that’s what I agreed to. I love my school and am deeply rooted in the prophetic social teaching of Morehouse — that’s why I went to Morehouse. Because of Dr. King, Howard Thurman and so many other illustrious men and because I wanted to be one of those Morehouse men. I will fight to keep Morehouse true to what she’s always been for these 146 years.”
In the letter, Johnson said that when President Wilson called on April 15 he indirectly suggested that he should withdraw from being the baccalaureate speaker. He said that because of a well-thought, crafted and soundly documented article, he became disturbed about the college.
“I am disturbed not because you called, but I am disturbed because of the reason for your calling. Your call was not to congratulate me for upholding the Morehouse tradition of critical thinking, analysis, and writing, but rather to scorn me for the use of it,” Johnson wrote.
The Op-Ed piece was published in the April 14, 2013 Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Tribune It was titled “A President for Everyone, Except Black People” and in it Pastor Johnson wrote that aside from Attorney General Eric Holder – the first African American to hold that critical post – there is a lack of diversity within the president’s cabinet. Johnson quoted Rep. Marcia Fudge, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who also mentioned this to Obama in a letter sent to his desk.
“When one compares President Obama to his predecessors, the decrease in African-American appointments is astounding,” Johnson wrote. “In American presidential history, President William Jefferson Clinton has been, by far, the most transformational leader. Clinton appointed seven African-American cabinet members, the most of any president in history: Compared to Obama, President George W. Bush also had more African-Americans in his cabinet, including the first African-American secretary of state and secretary of education, Colin Powell and Rod Paige, respectively. Bush also appointed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and Alphonso Jackson as secretary of housing and urban development. For Obama, Eric Holder is the first African-American attorney general and the only African-American cabinet member of Obama’s administration. In sum, when one compares the first African-American president to his recent predecessors, the number of African-Americans in senior cabinet positions is very disappointing: Obama has not moved African-American leadership forward, but backwards.”
Johnson said in his letter that the irony was the timing of the discussion, and in the letter lashed out at Wilson and called his leadership of the college into question.
“Not the timing of the article but rather the timing of the discussion,” Johnson wrote. “To be quite honest with you, this is not about an article I have written or even the president of the United States being this year’s commencement speaker. Rather this is about the type of institution Morehouse College will be during your presidency and beyond.”
On April 21, Johnson spoke about the situation to the congregation of Bright Hope.
Michael Williams, a member of the church, expressed his views on the matter in a letter to the editor.
“Today at my church Bright Hope, Pastor Kevin Johnson shared with us that Morehouse may be trying to rescind their invitation to him to be this year’s baccalaureate speaker.
I don’t understand. I’m shocked. I can’t believe they would do this given that my pastor is a proud Morehouse man, talks about his alma mater all the time,and tells students from our church to attend. He has a doctorate degree from Columbia University, but knows to relate to everyone including me. He speaks out on issues in Philly and the nation just like Dr. King would do if he were alive. I could go on and on about my pastor. I look up to him and want my son to be a Morehouse man just like my pastor,” Williams wrote.
“One more thing. Morehouse’s new president Dr. Wilson was just at our church in June 2012. I remembered his sermon on education Sunday. He did a good job. He told us to think. I was so uplifted by his message that I am now trying to get back in community college so I can get my AA and soon my BA. Because he made me think about going back to school I purchased his sermon and often listen to it to inspire me. I just don’t understand how a minister can treat another minister like that. Also I don’t understand how he can preach a sermon like that at our church and then try to deny my pastor the same opportunity just because he wrote an article about the president in last Sunday’s Philadelphia Tribune. Morehouse and Dr. Wilson should be ashamed of themselves.”
President Barack Obama recently expressed his support and endorsement of same-sex marriage. This is the first time that a sitting United States president has affirmed marriage between persons of the same sex. President Obama’s decision to support gay marriage is not only historic, but also demonstrates his commitment to ensuring that all Americans are treated equally under the law. All American citizens, including persons like myself who maintain the traditional, Biblical view that marriage is “between a man and a woman,” should respect the president for taking such a courageous stance on such a very sensitive and political issue.
I share the aforementioned because Obama is not a pastor. He is a political leader. He is the president of the heterosexual and homosexual, the rich and poor, Black and white, Christian and non-Christian. He has to make decisions that he believes are in the best interests of all Americans, so as to maintain every citizen’s Constitutional rights.
Given these parameters, his recently articulated position on gay marriage should come as no surprise. The debate on same-sex marriage or civil unions is not new to Americans, its presidents or religious institutions. To date, same-sex marriage/civil unions have passed in six states (Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut) as well as in the District of Columbia. It will be legal in Washington state effective June 7, 2012, and in Maryland effective Jan. 1, 2013. In addition, 31 states (including Pennsylvania) have already banned same-sex marriage. The reality is that this is still very much a state-to-state issue rather than a federal issue. There is no federal legislative foundation supporting same-sex marriage. The president’s position does not make it law.
Moreover, the issue that is at the crux of this debate, and is often overlooked by those for and against gay marriage, is: How can we maintain the separation of church and state while giving individuals freewill to be in committed, monogamous, legal relationships that are heterosexual or homosexual? That’s the real dilemma we, as Americans, must resolve.
As an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am called to love all persons regardless of one’s sexual orientation, race, gender, class or pedigree. Anyone who comes to Bright Hope Baptist Church will concur that I make every effort to make every worshipper feel welcomed in God’s house. I do not judge, lest I be judged. I do not condemn, lest I be condemned.
However, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.” I cannot and will not abdicate this responsibility. As a pastor, it is my responsibility and obligation to exhort the teachings of the Bible, including the Biblical principal that defines marriage as being “between a man and a woman.” And while I have never made a big issue of homosexuality in the church, everyone who attends Bright Hope knows where I stand and that I firmly maintain and uphold the Biblical definition of marriage “between a man and woman.”
Given my beliefs on marriage and Obama’s beliefs on it, one may ask: “Can a Biblically-based pastor support the president’s recent decision while also maintaining one’s religious belief?” My answer is “yes.” People of faith can still believe in the Constitution of the United States of America and still maintain their religious convictions and beliefs.
Certainly, the religious right would have us to believe that this is not possible — that people of faith have to choose between their faith and what is constitutionally right. I beg to differ. I believe one can be governed by and maintain one’s religious beliefs while also living in a democratically governed, and pluralistic society.
Indeed, that is what makes America so great — that we can live in harmony with others even if we do not agree with their politics, faith, beliefs or decisions. If a group of individuals’ goal is to legislate faith in America, then maybe they should consider moving to a religiously governed society. However, if they choose to live in America, then they must understand the tenets of democracy and how it allows for individuals to co-exist even when there are major differences and beliefs amongst them.
Lastly, while Obama and I share different opinions on how the “institution of marriage” is defined, I nevertheless support his effort to advance human and civil rights for all. If the president’s recent position on same sex unions will 1) affirm the separation of church and state and 2) allow for religious leaders to not be criminalized or prosecuted because they hold firmly to their religious beliefs that “marriage is between a man and woman,” and therefore are not forced to perform such ceremonies in their religious organizations, then I can support him. I support the president not because he and I agree on same sex marriage — we do not and never will — but rather I support his efforts to bring equality of human and civil rights to all Americans, which is President Obama’s obligation as the leader of the United States of America.
Anyone who understands the importance of the separation of church and state in American history will have to agree that one can support civil laws for same sex unions as long as they do not infringe upon the rights and freedoms on religious institutions. Both can co-exist just as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and other believers co-exist and practice their religious beliefs in America. We are Americans and live in a pluralistic, democratically governed society. We must find a way to affirm one another’s individual beliefs even if we do not agree with them. We have done so in the past and can do so in the future.
Reverend Kevin R. Johnson, Ed.D. is senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church.
Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. has responded to the controversy surrounding Rev. Kevin Johnson’s invitation to speak during the college’s baccalaureate service.
The controversy began after Johnson wrote an op-ed article in the April 14 edition of the Tribune that was critical of President Barack Obama’s lack of African American appointees in his cabinet.
Johnson, who is the senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, had been invited to be the sole baccalaureate speaker May 18 at his alma mater. After Johnson’s article appeared, Wilson contacted Johnson by phone and stated that the article was “untimely” given that Obama is Morehouse’s 2013 commencement speaker. He amended his decision to have Johnson appear as the sole speaker and opted to add two more baccalaureate speakers. Johnson refused the offer on the grounds that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker and all initial representations made to him.
Last Friday, Citizens for Change, a group of prominent Morehouse alumni, decried Wilson’s decision to amend his invitation to Johnson. They called for Wilson to honor his original invitation to have Johnson appear as the sole baccalaureate speaker.
“The idea that Dr. Johnson’s views disqualify him as a candidate to deliver the Morehouse baccalaureate address is quite disturbing. The views expressed in the article in question are consistent with views he has expressed in his monthly columns and national media appearances. If the goal here is to subject potential speakers to an ideological litmus test as a precondition for speaking during this historic weekend at Morehouse, the college administration should have done its due diligence in thoroughly vetting the potential speaker in advance of extending the invitation, ” Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. said in a release.
“Dr. Johnson represents the best of the Morehouse tradition and the best of engaged political support of President Obama, even if at times critical of the president. Whether one agrees with Johnson or not, the coalition of Obama supporters consists of people with varying viewpoints, and of varying points of agreement and disagreement with the Obama Administration. Punishing the expression of political dissent is the wrong message to send young African-American men charged with being global citizens in a diverse world.”
Wilson addressed the issue in an open letter to the Morehouse community.
“In brief, I extended an invitation to a distinguished alumnus to speak at our upcoming baccalaureate service. I subsequently made a decision to adjust the format of the baccalaureate program and opted for a more creative, multi-speaker approach that is used by many leading institutions. This sharing of the stage comports with the spirit of upholding democratic ideals, including freedom of speech and expression, and is entirely consistent with the spirit of camaraderie that Morehouse holds dear,” Wilson wrote.
“As president, I believe this is in the best interest of the college. In this instance, I decided to ask this invited speaker to share the baccalaureate stage with two other speakers so as to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.”
Wilson said his decision was wrongly construed by some as an effort to “disinvite” Johnson.
“He was not disinvited, but rather declined to participate in the format. Worse yet, this decision has led to allegations of censorship, which of course has no place in any viable academic institution. These allegations are fundamentally deleterious and are undeserved,” he wrote.
“In brief, this matter is not and has never been about censorship. Nor has it anything to do with stifling or limiting ‘prophetic voices,’ disturbing the ‘King legacy,’ or deviating from any of the proud traditions of the College.”
When asked to respond to Wilson’s letter, Johnson told the Tribune that he has no response at this time.
The 2012 “Forty Days of Delight” is the spiritual theme that’s guiding the pastoral leadership and congregants of Bright Hope Baptist Church, in a church-wide fast, as they prepare to usher in Resurrection Sunday (Easter, April 8), arguably, one of the most holy of Christian celebrations.
Located at 12th Street & Cecil B. Moore Avenue, the genesis of Bright Hope Baptist Church, dates back to 1910, the same year the Titanic sank! But there’s no sinking this ministry, Rev. Dr. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor, is making quantum progress leading and growing the ministries and disciples of Bright Hope!
Bright Hope, as with millions of other church congregations around the globe, is currently celebrating the Lenten Season: a period of preparation before Easter. In Western culture, the Lenten Season (or Lent), begins 40 days prior to Easter. During Lent, it is popular tradition for many Christians to fast and repent of their sins; most significantly, it’s a time of deep reflection of one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ, remembering his life, death, burial and resurrection!
“This (Forty Days of Delight) is a time to set aside time to cleanse our mind and body, to get closer to (serving) Jesus,” shared Fred Haynes, a senior member and deacon of Bright Hope. In his 10 years serving as a deacon, Haynes said, “Serving the sick and shut-in,” has been his most rewarding service to others. Haynes has been a member of Bright Hope since 1987, a retiree of the food service industry, he’s enjoying his retirement years with his wife Robin — they’ve been married 25 years.
“This year, we are focused on (serving and uplifting) families …we are focused on our kids,” shared Ken Frieson, chair of the deacons. Frieson, 51, has served as a deacon since his ordination in January, 2008. He was recently installed as the chairman in February of this year, along with other newly installed officers. Frieson has been a member of Bright Hope since 1979, and as he reflected on the church’s rich history, he recalls the work of Rev. William “Bill” Gray III, former senior pastor and U.S. Congressman. Frieson recalled one historic event, in 1985, when Gray was chairman of the U.S. Committee on Budget, he introduced a House bill that prohibited loans and new investments in South Africa. This bill was an anti-apartheid effort to force hefty sanctions on imports and exports with South Africa, a move that helped contribute to the release of anti-apartheid activist/political prisoner Nelson Mandela.
Bright House has had global and national luminaries to visit and fellowship with its congregants, including: Nelson Mandela, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jean Bernard Aristide, Barbara Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou, Ambassador Andrew Young and others. Under the current leadership of Rev. Dr. Kevin Johnson, Bright Hope continues its legacy of making social, political and spiritual impact, locally and abroad.
Rev. Johnson is a stalwart advocate for the uplifting of oppressed, disenfranchised and downtrodden people. His ministry service and community activism reflect his deep compassion and desire to help those who have been marginalized succeed.
Commenting on the Lenten Season and Bright Hope’s Forty Days of Delight fast, Johnson shared, “Last year we had a fast that our Sankofa ministry (introduced). This year, the Lord laid on my heart to do a corporate fast (church-wide).” As a result, Johnson affirms that people in the congregation have been blessed, he said that some of the testimonials have included: Members’ have increased study of the Word of God; people are experiencing promotions in a down-turn economy; wayward children have been behaving better; and troubled marriages are reconciling!
This year, Johnson has scheduled a “Who’s Who” array of pastoral leaders to guest preach during his Wednesday night Lenten services (February 22–April 4). Some of the guest preachers have included: Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller, Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Damone B. Jones Sr., Bible Way Baptist Church; Bishop Keith W. Reed Sr., Sharon Baptist Church; and Rev. Willie I. Graves, St. Phillips Baptist Church, to name a few.
Johnson has become a very vocal advocate for education reform in Philadelphia, “Our focus is on quality public education. (Bright Hope is) so concerned about our public schools.”
One of Johnson’s heartfelt goals is to create a single-sex/all boys public school, “We are praying for the Lord to move in a mighty way to open a public school for African-American and Latino boys.” As a proud graduate of Morehouse College, one of the world’s most prominent all-male historical Black colleges and universities, Johnson believes that an all-male public school for boys of color can become a “citadel of hope” for many Philadelphians demanding quality and impactful education reform.
“I love him so much,” muses Rev. Johnson’s wife, Kimya; in August, the couple will celebrate 15 years of marriage. Kimya’s Swahili name translated means “Quiet One” — she laughs, as she admits her mother made a mistake in giving her that moniker. Kimya is far from being coy. She zealously supports her husband’s ministry by overseeing the Women’s Day ministry, she’s involved with Children’s Ministry and she occasionally sings in the choir, among other ministry duties. A mother of 3 children (Miles, 11 yrs.; Laila, 6.5 yrs.; Lena, 4.5 yrs.), Kimya is also a full-time practicing labor and employment law attorney for the Cozen O’Connor Law Firm, and she’s a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Kimya has an aversion to being referred to as a first lady; she prefers being referred to as “A daughter of God, not a first lady,” placing emphasis on her ministry activism to serve others. Commenting about the Lenten season, Kimya said, “It’s an empowering and holy celebration!”
On June 1–2, Kimya will organize and host Bright Hope’s 4th Annual Women’s Retreat at the Embassy Suites Hotel–Philadelphia Airport. She quips, that the women’s retreat is open to the public, “To all women, no men allowed!”
The Lenten season has special meaning to Claudia Averette-Williams, newly appointed chairperson of Bright Hope’s trustee board. “When I think about what God has done (for us), my heart shouts…” for joy! Averette-Williams has been a member for 18 years, and has served as a trustee for 5 years. As a trustee of the church, “I ensure how money is spent, and I ensure that the congregation is aware of all the church finances,” says Averette-Williams. She admires Rev. Johnson’s pastoral leadership and community activism. Averette-Williams affirms that Johnson is growing the church with younger families, creating a balanced blend of elder and young congregants.
Rev. Carmen Marshall relishes that Lenten season is a time, “To recognize and celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” For Marshall, the purpose of the Forty Days of Delight fast is: “Primarily a time for the whole church to draw nearer to God. It’s a time of reordering (priorities) of keeping the Lord first, and loving God’s people.” Marshall is the church’s chief of staff; she assists Pastor Johnson, she teaches Bible study and she has administrative oversight of the church.
If you plan to visit, Bright Hope Baptist Church is located at 12th Street & Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19122. Worship Schedule: Sunday Morning Worship – 10:15 a.m.; Wednesday Night Word – 7 p.m.; Saturday Morning Bible Study – 8:30 a.m. Communion is every third Sunday. For more information, phone: 215-232-6004.
President Barack Obama has a problem. It is not his vision for change or the soaring unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. It is neither the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan nor the growing apathy within his Democratic party. Unfortunately, he inherited some of these challenges from the previous administration. His problem? How does he marry audacious leadership and hope while facing fierce opposition and disrespect?
During the summer, the president sought the middle ground, trying to appeal to independent voters. At first glance, this strategy appeared to be an excellent one for a 2012 re-election: to stay above the fray and reaffirm to independents that he is not an “angry” or “reactionary” Black man, and that he is above the disrespect and childish political antics of John Boehner, Eric Cantor and rest of the Republican Party.
Indeed, the primary challenge facing Obama is contending with the forces who want to gain control of the Oval Office and who are willing to stop at nothing to apprehend it — even if it means bringing the U.S. financial market unnecessarily to her knees.
In order to save America, and even his presidency, the president must emerge as the master strategist to combat forces that would muddy the waters between allies and foes, and stir deleterious and counterproductive debate amongst his voting base that is designed to distract, discourage, dissuade, and ultimately defeat him.
To be victorious, Obama must redouble his efforts to maintain focus and to become what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “…not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
Please understand: I enthusiastically support President Barack Obama. In 2008, I organized Clergy for Change, the first interfaith and interracial breakfast in Philadelphia to support and elect then Senator Obama. My call for leadership should not be aligned with the likes of Tavis Smiley or Cornel West.
However, when 14 million Americans are unemployed, the housing market is in a tailspin, the economy is on the brink of a double-dip recession and your most loyal base is feeling the most financial pain, we need our president to dare to be our most audacious leader.
On Thursday night, delivering his jobs speech in the House chamber — a venue used only three times within the past 20 years except for the State of Union addresses — President Obama took a crucial step in bold and daring leadership.
Principally, the president exhorted Congress to pass a jobs bill that would:
— Cut the payroll tax and put more money in the pockets of working and middle class Americans, saving families an average of $1,500 a year;
— Provide an additional tax cut to any business that hires or increases wages;
— Extend jobless benefits to the unemployed, with special emphasis on those out of work at least six months and those in low-income neighborhoods.
— Spend $140 billion to save and create jobs to repair deteriorating schools and rebuild roads, railways, and airports.
President Obama is a gifted politician. He is smart, attentively listens and knows how to take our nation’s challenges and develop them into a clear, bipartisan vision. While he is a great visionary, he must do more than cast vision. He must be guided by his convictions rather than allow his enemies to cast him as one who occasionally acquiesces or abdicates his leadership.
The security of America and yes, even the presidency, dangles at the end of a very short rope. We have less than 14 months before next year’s presidential election. America is in desperate need of our president to rise again as the bold, thoughtful, prayerful, no holds barred people’s champion and leader we know him to be.
At the end of the day, leaders are not judged solely on their poll numbers, but rather their principles. And while poll numbers cannot be ignored, they should never be the compass guiding the leader. We are depending upon this great leader to change this nation and set it on the right course again. Will President Obama emerge as the courageous, audacious leader for these extraordinary times? I believe he will because that’s what great, audacious leaders do.
As always, keep the faith.
The Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson is the senior pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church.