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Trained in Rites of Passage, Now They’re Training Black Male Youth

The Baltimore Rites of Passage Initiative has been hard at work raising up a cohort of 16 men who will, in turn, mentor Black male youth ages 11-13.

by Rev. Dorothy S. BoulwareApril 19, 2024


It’s no secret that America has long promoted a narrative of inferiority about Black boys and men. It’s a steady drip of poison that parents, caregivers, and community members have to counteract vigilantly. And that’s where rites of passage programs — rituals that transition a person from an old way of being and thinking to a new, more mature, and advanced state  — make a difference.

Indeed, in Baltimore, the Baltimore Rites of Passage Initiative has been hard at work raising up a cohort of 16 men who will, in turn, mentor Black male youth ages 11-13.

RELATED: Helping Black Boys Heal From Violence, Trauma 

BROPI is an innovative, multigenerational model, which empowers Black men to embrace positive masculinity and expand their capacity to engage with adolescent Black male youth effectively. The program aims to bolster the ranks of highly skilled Black men equipped to address the pressing challenges confronting Black male youth.

“We’ll talk to them about who we are, about our African connections and traditions, and about how these ties and traditions became severed during slavery,” says David Miller, the co-leader of the program. 

Miller is a Baltimore native and activist with a doctorate from Morgan State University’s Department of Social Work. He “dedicates his life to fighting against the economic and social deprivation that communities of color face,” according to the program’s website, and “leads intergenerational conversations with men and boys about essential topics like managing anger, mental health, and alternatives to violence.”

At an event on April 13, the initiative, in partnership with MENTOR Maryland/DC, honored the hard work of these 16 men, along with family members and community leaders. These 16 men spent six months being trained in every aspect of life — physical, mental, and spiritual — to be mentors and examples.

RELATED: The Toughest Issue for Teachers Is Even Tougher For Students

The men, ranging in age from 24 to 60 and coming from various youth-serving organizations across the city, immersed themselves in sessions focusing on redefining manhood, combating toxic masculinity, delving into African/African American history and culture, and adopting African-centered best practices for engaging Black male youth. 

Their program of preparation also addressed mental health needs, suicide prevention, anger management, and decision-making.

Beginning in June, these men will guide 30 boys through up to 14 weeks of a youth Rites of Passage process — and not only the boys, but their entire families must be involved to make the process completely effective.

“This rites of passage process has not only enabled me to become a better man but has also equipped me with invaluable tools to enhance my role as a clinician providing mental health services to Black men and boys in Baltimore City,” Bobby Marvin Holmes, a licensed social worker, tells Word In Black.

“I am eager to complete this journey and commence my work with youth over the summer.”

Miller says this is the only program of its kind. “Baltimore is the only city that has a dedicated youth fund. We received a multiyear grant from the Baltimore City Children and Youth Fund, along with additional backing from the United Way of Central Maryland, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Elev8, Keys Development, and the YMCA of Central Maryland. ”

And, this program will be evaluated by an outside firm to measure and confirm its success.

Abusive Gender Practices “Tragically Embedded” in American Life


Cover of “Behind Closed Doors: Exposing and Addressing Harmful Gender-Based Practices in the United States”. Credit: Population Institute - Photo: 2024

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS | 5 April 2024 (IDN) — The United Nations has continued a longstanding campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriages, both still prevalent, mostly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF, FGM refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

Described as a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights, over 230 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM.

Africa accounts for the largest share of this total, with over 144 million. Asia follows with over 80 million, and a further 6 million are in the Middle East.

Another 1-2 million are affected in small practising communities and destination countries for migration in the rest of the world.

The practice is described as “universal” in Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, with 90 percent or higher, while it affects about one percent of girls and women in Cameroon and Uganda.

But a new report from the Washington-based Population Institute (PI) points out the prevalence of FGM, child marriages and femicide in the United States, and its widespread harmful gender-based practices.

In a new study released April 3, the Population Institute, a nonprofit which advocates for gender equality and sexual and reproductive health, says while few Americans realize these practices exist here, through meticulous research and analysis, the report, entitled “Behind Closed Doors: Exposing and Addressing Harmful Gender-Based Practices in the United States,” sheds light on their hidden prevalence and deep roots in American culture.

“To cast these gender-based harms as outside problems only is rooted in misguided American exceptionalism,” says report author Maniza Habib, research associate with the Population Institute.

A wake-up call

“This a major disservice to the countless individuals within our own communities who need support. ‘Behind Closed Doors’ is a wake-up call, urging us to confront the uncomfortable truth that harmful gender-based practices are a problem that involves us and our communities,” she argued.

They aren’t “foreign” problems; harmful, abusive gender practices are tragically embedded in American life, the report shows. They occur “behind closed doors,” but on a surprisingly large scale, and demand recognition and redress.

For example:

  • The U.S. positions itself as a leader in combatting FGM/C abroad, yet more than 500,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk or have already undergone FGM/C.

  • An estimated 300,000 minors in the U.S. were married between 2000 and 2018, the vast majority underage girls.

  • The U.S. has one of the highest rates of femicide among high-income countries, 2.2 per 100,000 women. Women in the U.S. are 28 times more likely to be intentionally murdered by guns than women in peer countries.

The report is designed to help bring these issues out of the shadows and give U.S. policymakers and communities tools to address them. It comes at a time when a national conversation about them is getting underway, says PI.

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. But courts and lawmakers are only just beginning to grapple with them, often ineffectively.

The Washington state and  Virginia state legislatures just passed laws setting the minimum marriage age, though it’s unclear whether Governor Youngkin will sign Virginia’s new law.

Nine states and Washington D.C. still do not have any laws against FGM/C

They were only the 11th and 12th states to pass such laws, an indicator of how embedded the practice of child marriage is in the U.S.

A decision is pending from the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Rahimi, a landmark gun law case that stands to greatly exacerbate the already high risk of femicide by loosening a loophole that would allow people under domestic violence restraining orders to obtain guns, on the theory that depriving them of gun rights violates the Second Amendment.

That the Court would even consider such a question indicates how embedded femicide and the attitudes behind it are in the U.S.

Nine states and Washington D.C. still do not have any laws against FGM/C, according to the report, and of those that do, many lack provisions that fully protect those who are vulnerable and fail to inform communities about the harms of the practice.

No states have laws against virginity testing, yet there have been reports of U.S. physicians receiving requests for virginity tests, including before a forced marriage.

Studies show gender-based harms disproportionately impact the LGBTQI+ community. The report highlights that at least 510 anti-LGBTQI+ bills were introduced across the United States in 2023, which stand to make the problem even worse, and indicate how far U.S. policy has to go to redress it.

Gender-based harms are an urgent social problem in the U.S, the report finds. Their lasting physical, emotional, social, and economic effects demand more community investment, advocacy work, and survivor-led initiatives.

The report also emphasizes the importance of a non-judgmental, non-stigmatizing attitude and calls for policymakers to approach gender-based harms with solidarity, humility, and empathy, both in international discussions, and in addressing them as urgent domestic issues in the U.S., seeking culturally competent solutions to build a society that respects the bodily autonomy, rights, and dignity of all individuals.

“By fostering global awareness, advocating for change, and building alliances across borders, rather than stereotyping gender-based harm as a ‘foreign’ problem, U.S. policymakers, practitioners, and communities can better contribute to dismantling oppressive structures and fostering a future where every individual is free from discrimination and gender-based harm,” the report states. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Cover of “Behind Closed Doors: Exposing and Addressing Harmful Gender-Based Practices in the United States”. Credit: Population Institute

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

Keep Telling Your Stories


Minister Angela Waters Bamford, M.Div., M.A.C.E. is a friend of UM, and this is

 one of the storied she shared stories at the Jewish Center, Rochester, NY

during Black History Month, February 15, 2024.

In the early 1960’s there was a young African American girl named Angela, Amelia, Kalula, Lizet, Taneguchi, Uchiomi, Machimola, Knackawhatic, by her mother; who had named her after her d-o-l-l, (I usually spell it, because it is a word that is hard for me to pronounce properly) after her classmates and friends that she cherish in her schools in Chicago, IL.  This young girl lived in Junction City Kansas during the school year and would return to her hometown Chicago where she was born during the Jim Crow Era.


 Jim Crow was an Era here in America where the Dominant Culture, which were the White population were making laws that would continue the legacy of White Supremacy.  Jim Crow legalized the separations of the other races of people and forced them into being Second Class Citizens.  Unfortunately, what that exactly meant was not taught in our schools per se, only the subtle degradation of the moral decay of humanism was expressed and children didn’t get the memo.  African American children were taught that you must respect your elders, even if they are wrong because there is a lesson to be learned even in that, like of what you don’t want to do or the way in which you should act towards others.

Well, we will just call the young girl Angela as we move forward with this story.  Angela’s thoughts did not give any notice of the “colored only” signs as they had always been just part of her life.  She didn’t fully understand what they meant, so when she would go places and see the signs, she never questioned why they were there.  When other acts of discrimination by her teachers presented themselves, like them making her to go to the end of the line when it was time to drink water from the fountain after a long hot recess, and then being told that the faucet in the bathroom was also off limits to her, which only left the toilet water for quenching her thirst.  While in the bathroom stall, she rationalized that, “dogs drink from the toilet and they are fine”, therefore it must be alright for her to drink too and that became her water fountain.  


Angela didn’t think about how when Mr. Ludwig would spit plaque covered erasers on her desk that that was not appropriate because it was a regular occurrence.  Instead of speaking out about it, she would stick big thick pins in her gums, and she and her other classmate who looked like her would flick the erasers back and forth to each other as a game.  She knew that she couldn’t tell her parents because they believed that the teachers were always right because they were adults and they would beat her and blame her for not getting good grades in school, not knowing that the teacher would not give her the credit she deserved.  These subtle acts mounted up and as she went into higher grade levels the abuse became worse and the teachers were pushing her down the stairs.


Unaware of the covert actions by those in charge, she began to rebel by fighting other students which did not help the situation.  By the time she reached eighth grade the Civil Rights Movement was well on its way, and she was definitely apart of it.  She would march home from school with the rest of the students that attended shouting James Brown’s lyrics to songs like “say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.”   When she asked her Social Studies teacher about being taught Black History that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  When the teacher told her that he was only teaching about the few pictures and captions that were in the book and she told the teacher to take the book and he then responded by giving her a pass to go to the Office.  That was the last of her formal schooling for more than 30 years.

During that time Angela made education and learning a lifelong journey, especially of Black History.  She became pregnant during her early teens and experienced a lot of the world through her experiences of being a victim of domestic abuse, molestation, insets, gang violence etc. because her father was a gangster, a pimp, and a whole lot of other things that weren’t legal or healthy.  By the time Angela was 17 she had three children and a husband and lived in Mannhiem West Germany.  


When she arrived in Germany, on her first day on the Kaserne she met people that knew her in Junction City.  Angela’s husband was in the 63 military battalion, and he spent a lot of time in the “field” where they practiced maneuvers.  She stayed in Hemsback in a hotel at first and then her husband took her to a place closer to Benjamin Franklin Village where he worked.  Upon arrival at the prospective apartment the host greeted her and her family with gifts.  She was invited for tea and shown the basement apartment that was for rent.  It was two rooms that were divided by a shrunk.  The landlord seemed nice and even promised to teach her German in exchange for her teaching her English.  The landlord wife Helen and Angela got along great, while Helen’s husband Hans Phifer never said much and was not home most of the time.  The two women would go shopping together and exchange rations for rent and spent a lot of time on lessons.  

The U.S. dollar was strong, 4 Marks to a U.S. dollar.  Cigarettes were $2.40 a carton and you could buy 4 cartons per adult, coffee, tea, and alcohol were also rationed and could be sold for enough to pay rent.  


One day while Angela was upstairs, she noticed a picture of the couple with white bands on the arm with a funny looking black symbol, so she inquired about it.  Angela had no idea what Nazi’s were or about the Holocaust.  The good old U.S. education neglected to mention that during any History class as well.  Helen never went into any real details about the Holocaust, but she did bring it to her attention about the ways that the U.S. treated African Americans.  For instance, she made it a point to bring Angela upstairs to show her the television when they were talking about a pet cemetery and she noted, “look, they treat their pets better than they do Black people.”

Angela still did not know or understand about Hitler, or the many people that were gassed and starved and the whole ugly inhumane system that allowed millions of people to be exterminated.  As a result, Angela attended a Retreat organized by her husband’s company to go to Berchtesgaden.  She stayed at the General Walker Hotel and was given a tour of the facility which included a short history lesson about how the infamous Adolf Hitler came from a short distance away in Austria with an eighth-grade education and had built this facility which the Americans knew nothing about until Hitler’s plane took off from Berlin and landed there.


As the tour bus climbed the mountain Angela noticed many holes in the side of the mountain path and inquired and no one responded.  During the tour, however, all was made clear.  There was a tour of the hotel that started at the restaurant whereas you left out of the side door you were taken to a door which had stairs leading down and as you stood at the top of the stairs you looked down and there were 3 long holes which were holes where guns would have been to shoot you as you approached.  As you turned there were 3 more holes which did the same thing of providing opportunities for the shooter to kill anyone who escaped the first set of guns.  To the side of the wall to your left was a door where an elevator could take you down 3 floors. However, the Nazi regime were in the process of building it 5 stories down when they were discovered.  As the tour descended, they were shown Hitler and Stallings apartments, and they were described of the luxury by the guide who had the opportunity to see it before the details were stripped away.  The holes that Angela saw as she was going up the mountain were described as air holes that were designed to pump in fresh air into the building for the 300 people who were expected to live there on the food and provisions that were enough to house them comfortably for six months.  



While Angela had learned a lot about history and people, she still did not know about propaganda.  Propaganda that had been instilled into the German minds about Black people and the lies that the White U.S. soldiers would tell Black soldiers about the German customs which were so outrageous they were laughable such as, the Germans were told that Black people grew tails at night, therefore without Angela having a clue about this her landlord Helen thought that it was logical to ask her, “when do you grow your tail?”  She would also want to touch her children and call them “Sugalatten” meaning Chocolate babies and see if their color would rub off.  Angela also did not understand what culture was or ethnicity because she had never been taught, so when her neighbors saw Angela’s son with his hair braided into many small braids, they assumed that she was mentally unstable and asked Helen about her mental capacity.

Today, Angela understands more about the impact of ignorance and how lies and misunderstandings can affect the lives of so many people partially because you can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t lead where you won’t go.  These lessons have made a huge impact on her life.  She understands that not knowing your culture or heritage can deny you joy and freedom.  As the Jewish Holocaust is a narrative that is imperative that is told as often and as loud as possible, I agree with “Poppa,” Dr. David Anderson who always told me to tell our stories.  We are all a people with a proud heritage, and we all have stories to tell of our lives and we should share them as often as possible.


Yes, I am that young African American girl and after watching the movie “Origin” directed by the fabulous, Ava DuVernay, whom I admire very much, how the Jewish Holocaust, the African American Slavery and the Untouchables in India were all connected reemphasized why we should tell our stories because it is not about Racism as the dominant culture wants us to believe but about Caste. I truly believe that when we know better, we are able to equip ourselves to do better.   Keep telling your stories, you never know the lives you will change, and it is never too late.


©by Angela Waters Bamford  All Rights Reserved.  Written Permission required.


Two South Carolina pastors announce they will stand for co-moderators of the 226th General Assembly


The Rev. CeCe Armstrong


The Rev. Tony Larson

The Rev. CeCe Armstrong and the Rev. Tony Larson used the month of February to discern their call and discuss their shared vision for the PC(USA)

Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service - March 5, 2024


Two South Carolina pastors will stand for co-moderators of the 226th General Assembly, set for June 25 through July 4, with plenary sessions to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and committee work online.

The Rev. CeCe Armstrong, associate pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church on James Island in Charleston, part of Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery, and the Rev. Tony Larson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Surfside Beach, which is in the Presbytery of New Harmony, have announced they will stand together.

“The Holy Spirit has been at work through the voices of our colleagues and mentors who have given us holy ‘nudges’ to offer ourselves for service by standing for this office,” the two pastors said in a statement. “In prayerful conversation, consultation and investigation, we have discerned that together we are willing to stand.”

The two pastors said their conversation began with key staff members of the Presbytery of New Harmony, including New Harmony’s executive presbyter, the Rev. Gavin Meek, and its associate for pastoral concerns, the Rev. Dr. Ella Busby.

Recently, Larson began serving as moderator of the presbytery. Meek called him one day last month to discuss an upcoming meeting agenda. Toward the end of the conversation, Meek told Larson he had one more thing to discuss: “I think you should stand for co-moderator of the General Assembly,” Meek told a surprised Larson.

You have enough experience in ministry, Meek told him. You’ve got polity skills and you have served the presbytery through its Committee on Ministry. “You have vision and energy that would serve [the PC(USA)] well,” Meek said, adding he and Busby had a person in mind “we think might stand with you.”

“That call came — oh, my stars!” Armstrong recalled. “I have undying respect for the Rev. Dr. Ella Busby, an iconic African American clergywoman.”

“I’m going to ask you to pray,” Busby told Armstrong. “I think you will like him, and I endorse him. You have faith and skills the denomination can benefit from.”

“Pray fast!” Busby urged Armstrong. “We need to make some deadlines.”

A week later, Busby had only one question for Armstrong: “What did the Lord say?”

That “God speaks through people I admire,” Armstrong told her. “[Busby] told me, ‘If God is saying this, I’m going to introduce you to him.’”

“We found time to have a phone conversation. We shard our experiences in ministry, our vision for the church and our theological perspective,” Larson said. “That began this work of prayerful conversation with one another, with God and others who have served in the role.”

“It all happened in the month of February!” Armstrong said.

Their vision is wrapped in helping Presbyterians “recognize who their neighbor is,” Armstrong said, while also “training their replacements” as older Presbyterians age out of leadership positions. “We are the church, but we won’t always be here,” she said. “How do we train those who will replace us?”

Trinity Presbyterian Church features “a vibrant group of older adults,” Larson said. Many Trinity members moved to Surfside Beach during their retirement years. “The church has to be a place that connects them to the community and introduces them to the neighborhood.”

“That’s part of my vision for the church in the 21st century, a time of great division in many ways,” he said.

When Armstrong first came to St. James, she moved in with a couple because of housing limitations. Her mother “was preparing to leave this life, and so she selected this set of parents for me,” Armstrong said. When Armstrong told this couple what she and Larson were discerning, the husband advised her that “If you are going with God, then trust God will be with you whatever that looks like.”

The senior pastor at St. James, the Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson, put it even more succinctly: “It’s about time!” When Armstrong told the session, they prayed for her and told her, “Do you know what it means for this congregation?”

“They’re already preparing,” Armstrong said. “Without their endorsement I would do nothing.”

An endorsement from both presbyteries, which are adjacent, is expected soon. “Each of our presbyteries has a story to tell about teaming up for a shared witness to Jesus Christ,” Larson said.

Larson shared the news with the Trinity congregation on Sunday. “They don’t get on their feet very often unless told to by an asterisk in the bulletin,” he said with a smile, but they did when they heard his news. “There were a lot of ‘God be with yous’” expressed when Larson shook people’s hands after worship. “There’s definitely some excitement.”

“I suspect the biggest challenge right now is there is a heaviness in our political arena,” Armstrong said. Even though the PC(USA) “is heavy laden with words and policies, we are a visual denomination” as well, Armstrong said. She expects “people will take in our visual presentation” with one candidate being a Black female, and the other a white male.

Larson said he’s been clear with Trinity’s session and the congregation that “the vision of the kingdom is broad and expansive and inclusive.”

“I think that’s a message that resonates with people here, and I hope that finds resonance in the larger church,” he said. While they were discerning their call to stand as co-moderators, “We talked about alignment in our discernment,” including gifts and skills and shared vision, he said, “and that’s true for the larger church.”

“Part of the work is to seek a vision of alignment, trusting God that even when there are differences, Christ intends healing, wholeness, reconciliation and grace,” Larson said.

“We just connected in February, and yet we are very certain this was a God call,” Armstrong said. “We bring what we have, but we know God provided it in the first place.”

“Neither had it on our radar a month ago,” Larson said. “To get to know one another and hear these affirmations has been a joy.”

For Black ‘nones’ who leave religion, what’s next?

When Black Americans leave religion, they rarely leave it altogether. But even as they retain elements of Christian culture, what other communities are they embracing beyond the church?


(Photo by Jed Vallejo/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

February 12, 2024

By Kathryn Post

(RNS) — When Black Americans leave religion, it’s rarely a clean break.
Take Rogiérs Fibby, a self-described agnostic, atheist and secular humanist who grew up in the Moravian Church. The head of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Black Secular Collective, Fibby also considers himself “culturally Christian.”
“I know all the lingo, the theologies of different denominations, the theological distinctions, how to move in those different spaces theologically and interpersonally,” he told Religion News Service.

Or take Felicia Murrell, who served in church leadership across a range of denominations for over two decades. Today she thinks of herself as “interspiritual,” but she also told RNS, “Christianity is my mother tongue.”
Then there’s William Matthews, longtime Bethel Music recording artist who left the church for about six years, starting in 2016. Today he’s the music director at New Abbey, a progressive, LGBTQ-affirming church in Los Angeles where exvangelicals and religious ”nones” regularly attend.


William Matthews. (Courtesy photo)

“We don’t have the privilege to not need God, or some type of God or spirituality,” Matthews, who now identifies as Christian, told RNS about Black Americans. “It’s always been our backs against the world.”
Of the roughly 20% of Black Americans who are religiously unaffiliated — or nones — about one-third believe in the God of the Bible, and over half believe in some other higher power, according to a January Pew study. Eighty-eight percent believe humans have a soul or spirit, 71% think of themselves as spiritual, and by nearly every other religious or spiritual metric — belief in heaven and hell, daily prayer — Black nones come across as more religiously enmeshed than other nonaffiliated groups.
“They are not affiliated with a religion, but that does not mean they don’t have various devotional practices, various spiritual beliefs,” said Kiana Cox, senior researcher on the Race and Ethnicity team at Pew Research Center, who also pointed out that Black Americans generally are more likely to engage in religious practices than other racial groups.
While statistics on unaffiliated Black Americans paint a clear picture of their spiritual nature, the data doesn’t explain why this group seems to retain religious attachments, or what sorts of communities they are embracing beyond the church. As Black nones continue to depart the religious institutions that have historically served as vehicles for social change, the answers to these questions could have broader implications for the future of Black-led activism.
According to some experts, the central role religious groups played in securing civil rights is part of why Black nones retain elements of religiosity.

“When we think about the Civil Rights Movement, when we think about Reconstruction and African Americans coming out of slavery, it was important to identify with these institutions for social reasons and for economic reasons,” said Teddy Reeves, curator of religion at the National Museum of African American History & Culture. “It was a way of safety. It was a way of community. It was a way of creating meaning out of what was going on in their everyday lives.”


Felicia Murrell. (Courtesy photo)

For Murrell, some of her most formative memories are of her grandmother starting each day sitting in her chair, Bible in her lap, glasses slipping down her face. The stories about God’s deliverance that have been handed down from generation to generation, Murrell said, are deeply rooted in the Black American experience.
“I do think a lot of the overcoming of hardships, a lot of the way that people endured, was through their belief in God, that God would make a way somehow,” said Murrell. At testimony services in the Black church, Murrell said, it’s common for folks to share stories about tragedy happening in their life, and then to say “but God!” to indicate how God intervened on their behalf.

“I think you have people looking for deeper answers,” she said. “They’re looking for a faith that can sustain and hold their mystery.”

R. Khari Brown, (A Sociologist)
R. Khari Brown, a sociologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, told RNS that while the educational attainment of some Black Americans could be impacting Black nones’ departure from institutional religion, others struggling with poverty may also be impacted if they are more focused on survival than attending worship services. 
“So one pattern is, people who are highly educated tend to be unaffiliated, which is the case among all groups,” he said. “But for African Americans, I think the role of poverty, and social instability linked to poverty… is also correlated with not attending.”
Jason Shelton, author of the forthcoming book “The Contemporary Black Church: The New Dynamics of African American Religion,” added that some historical denominations can seem overly formal or outdated.
“There’s still a sense that you have to dress formally. There’s still the sense of the detachment of the preacher in the pulpit far away,” said Shelton, who was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and is now part of the United Methodist Church. “It’s an old choir, and that organ, good God!”


Kiana Cox. (Photo © David Hills)

Some churches’ theology, too, can feel hostile to those who are queer or LGBTQ-affirming. That was the case for Fibby, who in the late aughts was working as a church musician in both a Black Baptist church and Afro-Caribbean Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brooklyn, New York. While the two churches differed wildly on much of their theology and polity, “the one thing they agreed on was the homophobia part,” said Fibby. As a queer Black man, he said the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric he routinely heard from the pulpit is part of what made him skeptical toward claims of the faith.
Given the prominence of religious institutions in Black culture, disaffiliating from religion can leave a void in terms of community. In response, according to Reeves, who created and produced the documentary “gOD-Talk: A Black Millennials and Faith Conversation,” Black millennials are gathering elsewhere, from meeting up at music 

festivals such as Coachella, AfroTech and Afropunk to getting together for brunch regularly. Social media, too, has become a hub for connection, he said, and some Black nones looking for spiritual fulfillment might turn to online leaders such as the Rev. Melva Sampson of the Pink Robe Chronicles and Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry.

After Murrell first left the church due to an experience of “church hurt” in 2014, she began teaming up with her husband to host the “Brunch Bunch,” monthly gatherings centered on food and discussion with about five other families who’d left church. Murrell also finds regular community with her Girls Nite Out group, women who, she describes in her forthcoming book, “And: The Restorative Power of Love in an Either/Or World,” are “as likely to tell you about the tarot cards she pulled or gift you a crystal as another is to pray for you and give you a prophetic word.”

Matthews ended up returning to church after his years away — the pandemic, he said, and the accompanying isolation eventually “pushed” him back to church. He found a community with progressive theology and an anti-hierarchical model, but he knows not everyone will find a church to call home. Outside of religious institutions, Matthews believes Black nones will need to consider what groups will be responsible for generating collective action.

“For us to see the type of change we want to see in the world around social justice issues, around racism, sexism, homophobia, it will take collectivist work,” he said.
In some places, Black-centered institutions offering community and activism have already emerged. Around 2010, Fibby used social media to connect with other Black Americans who, like him, were looking for belonging on the other side of religion. Many of those online connections have translated to long-term in-person friendships. And as the leader of the D.C. chapter of the Black Secular Collective, Fibby connects with like-minded individuals through regular meals, volunteer work and participation in marches and protests.


Teddy Reeves. (Courtesy photo)

Shelton also voiced the need for institutions to galvanize Black people around issues of racial inequality.
“When Black folks leave organized religion, and they have their reasons for doing so, no question about it, but what does that mean for African Americans and mobilization to address long-standing disparities?” he asked.
While Reeves echoed concerns about the importance of physical meeting spaces for social change, he also said it’s an “amazing time for Black faith.” It’s a season of change, and perhaps a time of reckoning, he said, as millennials refuse to put themselves in spaces that no longer serve them.
“This generation is following spirit,” said Reeves. “And if spirit is leading them outside the walls of our churches, and outside of the walls of our temples, and outside of the walls of our mosques, it begs our institutions to figure out: Are they listening to spirit and the new ways this spirit may be moving?”

Truth Stutters

A Love Letter to My Younger Self

FEB 14    


I grew
I grew grew
I grew…I grew up
I grew…up, up, up
I grew up with a stutter.
I hated it. It wasn’t a life-threatening condition. It was a soul-emptying one. Simultaneously embarrassing and terrifying. They say when you go blind or lose one sense, your others progressively heighten. I know speech isn’t a sense in the traditional sense of the word, but the same truth applies.
When you can’t speak, your eyes and ears improve. You instantly become a fantastic reader and listener.
I soon started hearing facial expressions. Furrowed brows were lips that mouthed silent words of confusion, frustration, pity (not the good kind either), condescension, anxiety, confusion, and frustration (I know I already used those last adjectives. My repetition wasn’t a typo; it was just a bit of an example. If reading them in print twice is frustrating, imagine how exhausting it is to read them on every brow aimed in your direction).
You begin mixing up the syntax in a way that doesn’t make any real sense; you just hope people won’t notice. Sometimes, when the adjective you want to use starts with a d, you put it after the noun because it’s easier for you to get it out. You rearrange your syntax so much that people begin wondering if English is your first language. The furrowed brows are subtitled again, and you can read between every one of these lines.
Not this again.
Not him again.
Hurry up and move on.
Why are you stuck on these words and these phrases?


Move On
Everyone knows the feeling of speaking before you’ve thought things through. Wanting to pick up the words that so carelessly fell from your lips. And apologize to everyone for speaking without thinking. Very few people know the agony of wanting to take back not your words but your thoughts. Very few know what it’s like to want to take back these thoughts because you know you’ll never be able to express them. And the longer they sit unexpressed, they create an indigestion of sorts that makes you envious and bitter of someone who will eventually come along and say your insightful remark or steal your joke (that would never be funny coming from your mouth because the timing of the punch line would always be off).
Very few people know what it’s like for the whole world to beg YOU to

Very few know the internal ache that pulsates in your diaphragm when you so desperately want to MOVE ON and TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE….but you can’t. You just can’t seem to finish the sentence and get the words out.
But then, you grow up.
And in some ways, you don’t outgrow the stutter, but you grow out of it. In College, you learn that people can’t sing and stutter at the same time, so you start to do spoken word (because you know you can’t sing). The same principles apply. The controlled breathing. The predictable melodic cadence that will follow you for the rest of your life. The inadvertent adoption of East Coast pronunciations of certain consonants and vowels was because they were the only ones with quality video and audio footage back then.
It sounds almost like raps, but you grew up in the suburbs, and despite your athletic frame, no one will believe you had a hard life. Your eyes are too gentle, and you like to show your gap-toothed smile too much. So you call it a spoken word and learn to control your breathing. You learn how effective dramatic pauses can be. (People often think you’re inserting a dramatic pause, but you’re not. You’ve learned to know what consonant combinations trip you up, so you hold your breath, catch it long enough to rehearse the sounds in your head, remind your heart to keep beating, and tell your soul it’s okay if you mess up and reveal to the world you still stutter. It all happens in a split second, but you’ve controlled it, and now you release it smoothly).
The brows furrow differently. You read between those lines, and those lips aren’t frowning. They’re smiling.
You learn to talk about a full range of topics. You can talk about spirituality, sports, socio-economic development, real estate, entertainment, music, art, biography, hip-hop, etc. You make a living off it. Your speaking takes you all over the world.


Finally, you’ve learned how to MOVE ON. You’re pretty good when it comes to TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. Finally, you can meet the Old World’s request to MOVE ON and TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE. You’re ready.
But then, your brother dies. One of the people who never seemed to care that you stuttered or teased you about it because he knew how much it hurt you. The one person not frustrated or even slightly annoyed by it is gone.
You can’t help but to start talking about his death.
And grief.
And for the first time, you don't want to move on even though you’ve learned how to talk about other things.

Not So Fast
You blink twice, and nine years have passed. You’ve spent the past 2 years sharing your writing publicly in book form. You host two nationwide tours on it. You write a substack. You executive produced a mini-doc and an album. You finished a doctoral dissertation and degree on the topic. You start to get tired of talking about it, sensing the rest of the world would be happy for you to MOVE ON like they did when you stuttered.
But now that you can talk about other things, people are begging you to keep talking about the same stuff.
They don’t want you to MOVE ON.


They’re happy to hear the same words and phrases.
And you stumble into a soul-filling realization.
Maybe stuttering isn’t that bad.
Maybe truth stutters a bit.
No truth sinks in the first time we hear it. We need to hear the same message again.
And again.
And again.
Maybe it’s okay to be known as the “grief guy” for a little bit longer. The people who lose someone tomorrow will be happy you wrote something about it today.
Dear Younger John,


While you’re learning how to speak words of hope to the world, do me a favor.
Love Yourself.
Stutter and all.
It’s gonna come in handy one day.

Cincinnati Fellowship helps young Black men enter the education field

By Tanya O'Rourke, January 17, 2024


At a preschool in Cincinnati's West End, two young Black men are sitting with the children, reading with them and reviewing their letter sounds.

Those two men are with the Literacy Lab, teaching preschoolers as part of the Cincinnati Leading Men Fellowship. Carlton Collins is the program manager for the fellowship, overseeing the work of 20 fellows.

"Black men represent less than 2% of the teaching population," Collins said.

His job is to help change that statistic.

"I saw it as getting more Black men into classrooms is protection for Black children, right? They get to grow from it, there's cultural understanding, but most importantly, they see what they can become ... and they no longer question that because they have someone who looks like them in front of them in the classroom," Collins said.

This job is just one of Collins' passions. Being raised by a single dad with a brother, he feels, makes him uniquely qualified to understand the need for and role of a Black man in young Black children's lives.


Collins' father and grandfather impressed upon him from a young age the importance of serving. So it came naturally when he wrote his book "Resist Every Bias on Every Level" seven years ago.

He said his grandfather's words served him well when he helped found the My Brother's Keeper — Heights Movement. Having grown up in Lincoln Heights, Collins heard the sound of gunshots his whole life emanating from the Cincinnati Police Department's gun range nearby. During the height of the COVID pandemic, it became clear to Collins that the gun range needed to go.

"We first made the argument that no child should be still hearing gunfire. And it became a real issue when it came to COVID, right? Because they didn't change their shooting schedule," Collins said. "Kids were home, right? So imagine a kid virtually tuned in to class, and he can't come off of you because the gunfire scares the rest of his class."

Recently, the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center named Collins a finalist for its Upstander Award, recognizing his significant contributions to making the lives of Cincinnatians better through his works and deeds.

"One of my favorite quotes is from Howard Thurman," said Collins. "He says, 'Don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive because what the world needs is more people to come alive.' So I feel like that's my role here."

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