Founded in 1981, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity was born out of social justice and grass roots advocacy for quality education for public school youth. Thirty-one years and 15 Black Clergy presidents later, the organization is still promoting and advocating for the good and welfare of the African-American community, including other disenfranchised citizens in the region..
The Rev. Dr. Terrence Griffith is the current president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, he became a member in 2006. He has a vision.
“We are focused on three major areas, economic justice, political justice and social justice,” said Griffith.
In recent years, particularly under Griffith’s leadership, the Black Clergy has been building stronger alliances with political leaders, corporate leaders, education professionals and union bosses, establishing the organization as a legitimate power bloc in the region. Recently, Griffith was appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett to serve on the Governor’s Commission for African American Affairs.
Originally from the Caribbean Island of Granada, Griffith was a rising political superstar. He was a senator in his country, serving in the Parliament. He came to Philadelphia more than 20 years ago. On June 17, 2001, Griffith became the 13th senior pastor to serve at First African Baptist Church, 1608 Christian St.
“We want economic parody for African Americans and the disenfranchised in our region,” said Griffith.
The Black Clergy promotes and advocates for equality, justice, brotherhood, community betterment, Black awareness, employment, better housing, education and Christian principles.
There are a few accomplishments that Griffith is pleased about.
“Presently, we are engaged in a series of health fairs across the city,” he said. “We’ve had professionals from Einstein (Hospital) and other from the health field, come serve as lecturers to educate the people, in addition to conducting various free health screenings and distribution of informative healthcare materials to families citywide. “I’m telling you, it has been impactful.”
Several churches including First African Baptist Church (in South Philadelphia), Resurrection Baptist Church (in West Philadelphia), Tenth Memorial Baptist Church (in North Philadelphia), Mt. Airy Church of God In Christ, Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Holmesburg and Great Faith Baptist Church (in University City section), have hosted health fairs.
The health fairs are being organized to address the systemic bad-health issues that exponentially plague the African-American community such as diabetes, HIV, obesity, heart disease, cancer, teen pregnancy, poor eating habits and smoking. According to a report from the United Health Foundation, the United States currently spends more per capita than any other industrialized nation on healthcare, including $1.5 trillion in medical costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
“Come September 15th, we are going to have a major health fair that will involve the entire city, at the Convention Center, and we have invited the first lady Michelle Obama, to be our keynote speaker,” said Griffith. “Hopefully she can make it. These are some of the things that we are doing, that Black Clergy hasn’t focused on before.”
Griffith said the Black Clergy has an economic agenda.
“On the economic field, we’re looking at workforce development, holding seminars so that we can talk to people about how they can become economically empowered,” he said. “Come September, these are workshops that our economic team will be (conducting).”
According to Griffith, building alliances with the business community is a key cog in the Black Clergy’s plans for economic uplift in the community.
“We have engaged some businessmen in the community who are a part of our Economic Development Committee, now that has never been done before … preachers do not have all the answers, and we have successful African-American business men and women that we thought we needed to tap, to put on the committee, to suggest to us ways we can assist the African-American community in becoming more economically stable,” he said.
The Black Clergy met last year to discuss a new vision and mission for the organization,
“About 30 of us met downtown and spent (hours) crafting a new direction for the organization,” said Griffith of organization’s bold new mission. “Two of the things that we did, we structured a new vision and a new mission for the organization, and the new mission of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity is, to unify African-American clergy, guided by Christian principles, to promote social, political and economic justice for all people. Not just for African-Americans, but to promote social, political and economic justice for all people.”
Griffith also shared the new vision statement: “To be the leading prophetic voice on issues affecting the quality of life of African Americans and the disenfranchised in our region.”
Some historical hallmarks of the Black Clergy include awarding college scholarships; establishing an ecumenical relationship with the Jewish community; establishing a non-profit organization (501(c) 3) named the African-American Interdenominational Ministries, Inc., under the umbrella of Black Clergy, which serves as a service arm. The Black Clergy is currently engaged in the city’s Peaceful Surrender Program which involves convincing those with criminal summons to surrender to churches and mosques to resolve their legal matter without violence. The Black Clergy has also forged an agreement with New York Theological Seminary for those ministers interested in pursuing a doctorate of ministry degree.
For Griffith, the unification of the Black Clergy is critically essential to the success of the organization and tantamount to its robust agenda,
“The only way we can affect change in this city, is if we come together and work together, for the common good of the people.”
The office of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity is located at 128 Chestnut Street, Suite 301, Philadelphia, Pa. Rev. Griffith can be reached at (215) 735-1050.
Mayor, community groups, head of teachers union welcome new superintendent
According to early reports, the School Reform Commission seems to have gotten it right with the selection of career educator Dr. William R. Hite Jr. as its next School District of Philadelphia Superintendent.
A myriad of stakeholders unanimously hailed the SRC for its choice, giving embattled school officials rare praise.
“Today, we take a giant step toward providing safe, high quality educational opportunities for all Philadelphia children,” said SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos last Friday, when the decision had been reached. “Dr. Hite is an eminent educator and a proven transformative leader.”
Hite Jr. comes from the Prince George’s County Public Schools system, Maryland’s second-largest school district with an enrollment of 135,000 and a budget of $1.6 billion.
The SRC has promised to release the details of Hite Jr.’s contract as soon as it is finalized.
Nutter, kept abreast at every stage in the superintendent search, also praised Hite Jr. for his education acumen and dedication to students.
“I was very impressed with Dr. Hite’s passion and commitment to educating children, support for the professional development of teachers and principals, and his dedication to working with the broader Philadelphia community,” Nutter said in a joint statement released by the SRC. “He understands that a high performing, high expectation system of schools is critical to the future of the City of Philadelphia. I would like to thank Wendell Pritchett for leading this effort by chairing the search committee and to all of the members of the community who attended meetings, offered advice and were involved in this thorough process.
High-ranking members of City Council were equally impressed with the new superintendent’s education acumen and his straightforward, yet affable nature. While Hite Jr. seems at ease in Philadelphia, even with taking on such a monumental challenge, veteran members of Council expect Hite to deliver on the hype.
“I am very pleased. He was my choice — and not that the other guy couldn’t do the job — but [Hite Jr.] was my pick from the beginning,” said Education Committee Chair Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, noting that Hite Jr. was very forthcoming about the problems identified in the district, including combating low morale and dealing with special education issues. “But I am interested in what he plans to do about crime and truancy, and how he wants to handle alternative education for the kids who don’t make it out of regular classes.
“We look forward to the opportunity to directly engage him.”
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, co-chair of Council’s education committee, echoed Blackwell’s sentiments.
“I believe the background of Dr. Hite is important, as he has served as an educator, principal and superintendent. He faced numerous and similar challenges as the Superintendent in Prince George’s County School District that we face here in Philadelphia,” Reynolds Brown said. “That history will be vital and inform how he tackles the numerous budget and academic issues that confront the Philadelphia School District. He also seems well aware that the district cannot face the problems that it faces on an island — that it takes a community effort of all stakeholders. I appreciate that approach. I look forward to working with him as we move the needle forward for our students.”
To form that relationship with students and teachers, Hite Jr. must first form a relationship with the powerful Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union. Previous superintendents had, at best, lukewarm relationships with the union, but PFT President Jerry Jordan seems willing to start anew with Hite.
“On behalf of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and the city’s educators and staff, I congratulate and welcome Dr. William R. Hite as he assumes the role of Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. In a time of great upheaval for our schools, we are hopeful that Dr. Hite’s appointment signals the beginning of stability and clarity that has been lacking for many months,” Jordan said in a statement released by the PFT. “Dr. Hite’s background as an educator and administrator in urban school districts should serve him well as he navigates the unique challenges facing Philadelphia’s Public Schools. The PFT looks forward to collaborating with the new superintendent to ensure our students and teachers are given the support, tools and conditions that foster high quality teaching and learning.”
Leaders with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity — long a watchdog organization in the superintendent search — have yet to meet with Hite, but its leadership is looking forward to working with the new schools chief.
“I have not had the opportunity to hear or meet with Dr. Hite, however, some Black clergy, our general secretary and others, have met with him and conveyed that Dr. Hite was very charismatic, and his presentation was very good,” said Black Clergy President Rev. Terrence Griffith, referring to the recent community forum Hite Jr. attended. “It seems that he has done a tremendous job in Prince George’s County in terms of resuscitating that school district.
“I don’t know if being charismatic qualifies somebody, but it goes a long way in reaching a lot of people,” Griffith continued, “but if those people who attended the forum are correct, then the SRC has chosen wisely.”
In a new paper in the journal PLoSOne, a team of physicians and public health researchers report that African-American clergy say they are ready to join the fight against HIV by focusing on HIV testing, treatment and social justice.
“We in public health have done a poor job of engaging African-American community leaders, and particularly Black clergy members, in HIV prevention,” said Amy Nunn, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
“There is a common misperception that African-American churches are unwilling to address the AIDS epidemic. This paper highlights some of the historical barriers to effectively engaging African-American clergy in HIV prevention and provides recommendations from clergy for how to move forward.”
The paper analyzes dozens of interviews and focus group data among 38 African-American pastors and imams in Philadelphia, where racial disparities in HIV infection are especially stark. Seven in 10 new infections in the city are among Black residents. Nearly all of the 27 male and 11 female clergy members said they would preach and promote HIV testing and treatment.
That message would provide a needed complement to decades of public health efforts that have emphasized risky behaviors, Nunn said. Research published and widely reported last year, for example, suggests that testing and then maintaining people on treatment could dramatically reduce new infections because treatment can give people a 96-percent lower chance of transmitting HIV.
According to the paper’s analysis, many religious leaders acknowledged that they struggled with how to cope with the epidemic, particularly with challenges related to discussing human sexuality in the church or mosque setting.
Many clergy members also said they face significant barriers to preaching about risky sexual behaviors while still emphasizing abstinence.
“It’s my duty as a preacher to tell people to abstain,” one pastor told the research team, “but if they’re still having sex and they’re getting HIV, there has to be another way to handle this.”
Many clergy members suggested couching the HIV/AIDS epidemic in social justice rather than behavioral terms, Nunn said. They also recommended focusing on HIV testing as an important means to help stem the spread of the disease and reduce the stigma.
In 2010, Nunn worked with prominent pastors, local media and Mayor Michael Nutter’s office of faith-based initiatives to promote and destigmatize HIV testing across the city. This year, she will partner with dozens of churches and community leaders to oversee an HIV prevention campaign that includes door-to-door testing in an entire zip code in Philadelphia with high infection rates.
Natalie Mitchem, pastor of Calvary AME Church and director of the First Episcopal District Health Commission, has been supportive of efforts to engage faith leaders in the fight against HIV. She says HIV awareness and education is a comprehensive part of the AME church’s health ministry.
“I feel like it’s a very significant, vitally important ministry for churches of all denominations. It’s important for us to share the messages about prevention and education in our congregations and in our communities — so that people know we care,” Mitchem says.
Nunn said religious leaders are willing to engage in dialogue and HIV prevention if it’s done in a culturally appropriate and faith-friendly way.
“This means that HIV prevention should be couched in social justice and public health rather than in exclusively behavioral terms. HIV testing should be the backbone of any strategy to engage African-American clergy in HIV prevention,” she said.
Group of pastors says same-sex rights not equal to civil rights
Since its beginnings in 1909, the NAACP has stood on the front lines of the African-American fight for equality on every level in American society — from the right to vote to equal education and employment opportunities.
Last week, at the organization’s national convention in Houston, a coalition of African-American pastors who attended the convention voiced their displeasure with the NAACP’s public support of same-sex marriage.
These ministers are saying that the NAACP has lost sight of its primary mission; which is to support the efforts of Black Americans in the fight against racism and for social equality and justice. These ministers say that the organization has ceased addressing the most pressing issues of African Americans with a Christian ethos and the spirit of humility, justice and racial reconciliation. They’re contending that the organization’s support of homosexual marriage was politically motivated and that most African Americans oppose same-sex marriage.
“There didn’t seem to be any discussion about it — it was political pandering,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and leader of the High Impact Leadership Coalition. “Without any animosity for the NAACP, the central issue for us is that the organization has moved away from its original mission which was to end racism in America. Over the years it seems to have become more politically elitist.”
Jackson, along with Rev. Bill Owens, leader of the Coalition of African-American Pastors and others expressed the opinion that homosexual activists, in their press for the apparent right to marry, have “high-jacked” the Civil Rights Movement.
They have gradually moved the public’s perception of what was once considered a moral choice to a civil right, Jackson said. Following the organization’s stance, which was announced in May, Rev. Keith A. Ratliff Sr., a member of the NAACP’s national board and an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage resigned his position in June. Ratliff said, and Jackson agreed that there is no parallel between the issues of the homosexual community and the struggles of African Americans.
“How has the NAACP veered off course?” asked Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and leader of the High Impact Leadership Coalition. Jackson said in a commentary prepared by the Coalition that in light of its position, the NAACP no longer speaks for him.
“The most concerning sign of mission drift is their stance on traditional marriage,” Jackson said. “First of all, they opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. Secondly, the NAACP also opposed the traditional marriage affirming Proposition 8 in California in 2008. Most recently, their 2012 resolution supporting same-sex marriage has become the source of tremendous controversy for many NAACP members and the Black community at large. This measure was passed quickly, without discussion or debate. In Florida, the NAACP sent out letters promoting same-sex marriage — and that was in a state where 70 percent of Black voters voted for traditional marriage. I was appalled when, in North Carolina, which passed a ban against homosexual marriage, a local NAACP leader came out strongly against traditional marriage. What I’m saying is the NAACP seems to be moving to an advocacy position on homosexual rights.”
The Rev. Keith A. Ratliff Sr., who resigned from his role as a NAACP national board member said there is no similarity between what the homosexual community is trying to attain and the struggle for freedom hard fought for by Black Americans. Where is their “Middle Passage” he asked, how many of them were denied the right to vote or attend a specific school?
“There is not a parallel between the homosexual community and the struggles of African Americans in our country,” Ratliff said in a press statement following his resignation. “I haven’t seen any signs on any restrooms that say ‘For Homosexuals Only.’ Homosexuals did not have to sit on the back of the bus, as African Americans had to.”
The verbal wrangling started in May, following President Barack Obama’s public announcement that he was in favor of same-sex marriage.
In response, the NAACP issued the following statement: “The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the ‘political, educational, social and economic equality’ of all people, Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens,” the statement read. “We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all people as protected by the First Amendment.”
The NAACP Board of Directors passed the resolution with only two dissenting votes.
“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP in a press release.
“I was one of those who voted for it,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP. “The organization is against any form of discrimination and that’s what this is.”
But not everyone agrees.
The Rev. Terrence Griffith, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity said while he does not support homosexual marriage, people must still have respect each other’s choices.
“For me, as a minister, I teach that we must respect each other’s choices even if we don’t agree with them,” Griffith said. “Having said that I don’t believe in same-sex marriage, I believe, and the Scriptures teach that sex is between one man and one woman. Will this have an affect on how the Black community votes in November? I don’t think so. There are other issues in play, and same-sex marriage won’t be the litmus test.”
Bishop Jackson said over the years there has been a progression of homosexual rights to mask them as civil rights issue and that their activists have been effective in that regard.
But, he said the Civil Rights Movement was about job equality, fair housing, education and other equities that were denied to African Americans and other people of color. He said homosexual activists are seeking additional rights.
“The Movement was about equal job opportunities, fair housing, judicial equity and healthcare. Charles Drew died because a hospital would not admit him and he died when his own invention could have saved him,” Jackson said. “The average gay person makes more than the average African American and our team feels that they are looking at the imposition of extra rights. They’re looking to change the definition of marriage, which will change the definition of the family and that will change education. They’re seeking to impose society’s acceptance of their moral choice. Essentially, we are entering an era where teachers will tell your children things you might not believe and if you oppose it you will be called bigoted and hateful. Laws are being made on the basis of these rights; for example, if you’re a man who feels like he is a woman, should you be allowed to use the ladies bathroom? This isn’t about hate or bigotry; it’s about a weakening of traditional family values that I believe will create more confusion in the long term.”
Mercy Home Health and Mercy LIFE have partnered with the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Gateway Health Plan to host a series of free health fairs throughout the city.
The health fairs will include educational workshops and panel discussions on topics including HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“This is about empowerment,” said Rev. Terrence D. Griffith, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
“The more healthcare education we make available to the members of our community, the better chances we have at a higher quality of life.”
The event also features health screenings, which may include blood pressure tests, body mass index screenings, hearing tests, cardiac risk assessment and nutrition screening.
“This series of health fairs and workshops is a great way for members of the community to receive care to which they may not otherwise have access,” said Carol Quinn, president and CEO of Mercy Home Health and Mercy LIFE.
“Education about healthcare is important as well, especially if you’re managing your own health or the care of a loved one.”
“At Mercy, we are with our patients every step of the way. Home health allows us to heal our patients in the comfort of their own homes and, through LIFE, we are able provide care for seniors in our community who need us the most. This health fair series takes the continuum of care concept one step further. It puts vital, empowering healthcare information in the hands of our community members.”
“It’s our job to continue to improve on the accessibility of quality healthcare for our most vulnerable citizens,” said Carol Allen, Gateway’s director of public affairs and program development.
“We will continue to proactively address the challenges faced by our members who are in need of proper healthcare services and we are proud to be a part of an event series like this that advocates for and promotes healthy living.”
The health fair series kicks off on June 9 from 9 a.m. to noon at First African Baptist Church, 1608 Christian Street.
The health fairs will be held as follows: June 16 from 9 a.m. to noon at Resurrection Baptist Church, 5401 Lansdowne Avenue; June 30, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Greater Faith Baptist Church, 4031 Baring Street; June 30 from 9 a.m. to noon at Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Holmesburg, 8101 Erdick Street; and June 30 from 9 a.m. to noon at Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ, 6401 Ogontz Avenue.
Hundreds of well wishers, church members, elected officials and business persons gathered at the first African Baptist Church to attend the Investiture Service of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity Sunday.
The audience consisted of a who’s who of Philadelphia as the most influential people in the city gathered to show support for The Black Clergy and its president, the Rev. Terrence D. Griffith.
The service was celebratory with special performances by the Lincoln University Choir, whose selections moved the audience to their feet with thunderous applause. Various speakers kept the audience laughing during their presentations.
But the Investiture Service, while celebratory and festive, was also one where the organizers of the event and speakers take the opportunity to address serious social concerns in the African-American community.
“Thank God for February because February gives us a license to be Black when we can’t be Black anytime else,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Louis Felton of Mount Airy Church of God In Christ, whose quip was greeted with laughter.
Felton said that today’s church lacked prophetic voices.
“There are so few prophets today that the church has almost become a non-prophet organization,” said Felton. “Thanks to First African Methodist Church, we are not without a prophetic voice in the community.”
The Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA and Pastor of White Rock Baptist Church gave the charge to the members of the Black Clergy and reminded them of their responsibilities and duties.
“Nobody stands by him or herself, our members are part of a larger Unit,” said Shaw during his charge to the clergy. Shaw warned the clergy’s officers to not guard against individualism and referred to history when divide and conquer techniques were employed to destroy progressive organizations.
“People sought promise and lost its sense of purpose and the organization began to lose its power. I charge you to fulfill the responsibilities as an organism that has a clear purpose and that purpose is not related to politicians,” said Shaw.
Shaw said the duties of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia was not simply to Blacks but to help white clergy to become sensitive to issues of the faith.
“Keep a sense of why you are there, you are there for the people and remember the source of your power,” admonished Shaw. “Your power is in the Holy Spirit so that you live with a sense of the divine and remember the power that is in you.”
The Rev. Jay Broadnax, 1st vice president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia introduced the Griffith and described him as a soldier.
“Rev. Griffith recognizes that he has been commissioned, not by a superior officer, not by a political power and not even by a denominational power structure,” said Broadnax. “Rev. Griffith is a soldier of righteousness and it is clear that he has been sent to stand up for the people by God.”
“This,” said Broadnax, “sometimes causes him to clash with the status quo.”
Upon taking the podium, Griffith lived up to this description by candidly addressing some of the concerns facing the African-American community including crime, gun control and economic instability. Griffith charged the responsibilities to the community to those living in the community.
Griffith spoke about Naila Robinson, the 5-year-old who was abducted from Bryant Elementary School. Police are still searching for her kidnappers.
“We also contributed to the award money,” he said. “We are adamant that we cannot continue to harbor and protect criminals in our community anymore. Somebody knows something and that somebody must turn these folks in and we pray that the cops get those folks before the community does.”
Griffith went on to mention the achievements of the Black Clergy which included partnering with the NAACP to help delay the implantation of the voter ID law, assisting a local school purchase uniforms for their students, assisting a promising student with college tuition, among other actions taken by the Clergy.
Griffith also addressed the issue of economic empowerment of the communities stating that those who do business in our communities must support the communities in which they do business.
“Our communities must not be used to make others rich. This means that there is a need for blacks to invest in our neighborhoods providing quality goods and services to our communities,” said Griffith.
He added that African-Americans will never receive parity as long as they remain consumers of the products and services produced by others as opposed to producing themselves the products and services they consume.
“Blacks will never attain parity until we find a way to support each other. The other man’s ice is not colder than ours,” said Griffith.
Quality education was essential to the security and well-being of the city, said Griffith during his address.
“We must put aside personal interest realizing that our city will go to hell unless we put our children first.”
Griffith said the Black Clergy of Philadelphia was sometimes seen as a paper tiger. because many African-American communities focus their objectives on what they can personally benefit from as individuals and not as collective body.
“It is this attitude which has pigeonholed us, we are so pigeonholed that it is impossible to around a central issue, theme or idea. We are so pigeon holed that everyone who has an idea wants to start a new group,” said Griffith.
Despite the existence of hundreds of community organizations, conferences of clergy and advocacy groups, African Americans still find themselves lagging behind because of their focus on individualism, he said.
“What is amazing is that other ethnic groups are moving ahead with jet-like speed,” said Griffith. “We have been here long enough but other folks have come and they have attained parity; we are marking time and Italians have gained parity; we are marking time and Asians are attaining parity; we are marking time and Dominicans have come to America attained parity.”
He added that many Black folks don’t get it because they keep asking the same question: “What’s in it for me?”
In response to health issues plaguing the community, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity is hosting a major health fair next week.
During a press conference Monday at City Hall, clergy leaders encouraged community residents to turn out for the “Health Care Matters — Take Charge of Your Health” fair held Oct. 27 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Terrence Griffith, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, kicked off the press conference by citing statistics about issues impacting the health of many city residents such as diabetes, HIV and obesity.
For instance, Griffith noted that more than 24,000 Philadelphians have died from diseases caused by poor diets and physical inactivity since the year 2000, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
“The reality is we are digging our graves with our teeth and the practice of unhealthy lifestyles,” said Griffin.
“Philadelphia, we have a problem, so this is the reason that the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, Gateway Health, AmeriHealth Mercy, elected officials and community leaders are here to declare that we are launching an assault on the chronic, pandemic diseases that continue to affect our community.”
Griffith was joined by various politicians, including Councilman Curtis Jones, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, Congressman Bob Brady and State Rep. Ron Waters who expressed support for the Black Clergy’s efforts to address the health of city residents.
Clergy leaders are hopeful that thousands of Philadelphians will attend the upcoming health fair.
“We expect to mobilize thousands that are interested in taking charge of their health, leaders who are concerned about the pain that continue to engulf our community because of chronic diseases and citizens who are shedding tears for family members and friends who died before their time due to premature death,” said Griffith.
“We have choices and these choices are to change our lifestyles, eating habits and diets. Live a life filled with possibilities or die before our time.”
The health fair is sponsored by Gateway Health Plan and the AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation.
“AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation is honored to serve as a partner in supporting faith-based programs that health and wellness of body, mind and spirit,” said Maria Pajil Battle, president of AmeriHealth Mercy Foundation.
The upcoming health fair features workshops, food demonstrations and live entertainment. Allen Payne of Tyler Perry’s House of Pain will be a celebrity attendee.
A coalition of voting rights advocates – including many of Philadelphia’s state legislators – has called for a state and federal investigation into the fact that the names of many registered voters were missing from poll books Tuesday, which, they contend, resulted in voter suppression.
“What happened here in Pennsylvania and in other states, Ohio, Florida and in many other states is a national disgrace,” said Babette Josephs, Democratic chair of the state House state government committee. “We’re suppressing the vote.”
Though the Philadelphia group, which has largely made up of Democrats, was pleased with President Barack Obama’s victory, they remained concerned about the process - citing the unusually high number of provisional ballots cast because the names of registered voters appeared to be missing from voter rolls in Philadelphia and across the state. They also voiced concerns about other irregularities across the country.
“We would be here win or lose, because the process is what counts,” Josephs said.
She added that she intended to formalize her request for an investigation with a letter to state Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane. She’d also like to see the federal Department of Justice investigate nationwide.
The House state government committee will be holding hearings on the matter on Nov. 14, she said. Josephs was joined by members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, and members of the Philadelphia Black Clergy at a press conference on Friday morning at the Laborers Local 332 Headquarters in North Philadelphia.
Several legislators said they saw trouble at the polls first hand.
One was state Sen. Shirley Kitchen, who is also the ward leader in the 20th Ward, who said the names of more than 175 voters who turned up at the polls were not recorded in the election rolls. They were forced to vote on provisional ballots, and Kitchen said she was still unsure whether they had been counted.
“No one has called me from the [city] commissioners’ office to tell me how they intend to solve this problem,” she said.
Her concerns come at a time of turmoil for the city commissioners, who oversee the city’s elections. Just this week, two members of the three member board ousted former chair Stephanie Singer and named themselves co-chairs.
“They have a coup and the person that is responsible – is she responsible?” Kitchen asked. “The person we could have asked questions is not there. That does not make sense.”
A call to co-chair Al Schmidt on Friday was not returned at Tribune press time.
The head of the state legislative Black caucus said there were too many improprieties to ignore.
“Something doesn’t smell good,” said state Rep. Ron Waters, adding that the coalition, formally called the Pennsylvania Voter Protection Coalition, concerns involved voting rights for everyone and members of both parties. “This isn’t a Black caucus movement. This is a movement for all voters.”
Though the state has not yet released voter turnout figures, anecdotal evidence and initial reports suggest that voter turnout was very high. Early reports by the Associated Press suggested statewide turnout as high as 70.
That is extremely unusual. Turnout for the 2008 presidential election was 64.2 percent.
Advocates credited anger over the state’s delayed voter ID law as the reason.
“Turzai was the star,” Josephs said, referring to a remark made earlier this year when Republican state Rep. Mike Turzai said the state’s voter ID law would help keep Obama from winning.
“We voted in such large numbers, it was disheartening at the end of the day to find out so many voters had obstacles to their right to vote,” said state Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown.