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Teaching & Learning

That Matters

Transformative Topics of Discussion

“Teaching is my ministry. I love to teach. To empower. To equip.

To set people free….to live into the graces and gifts they’ve been given”

words by Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon.

Teaching That Matters

We encourage lifelong learning. It is in this spirit represented by the late Dr. Cannon (above quote) that we offer teachings on and explore key issues shaping urban life and living, and people who are having a positive influence in their communities. How do you live out your life with a sense of purpose, social responsibility, and mission? What is your platform and how do you use it to help others?

April - May 2023



(6 minutes, 56 seconds)

This thought-provoking resource was introduced to me by Rev. Dr. Charles D. Tinsley, Chaplain Emeritus of the Costa Country Probation, Spiritual Care Department. He served as the chaplain for the Juvenile Detention System of Contra Costa, CA from 1994-2018. Fritzi Horstman of the Compassion Prison Project uses the compassion project circle to show the devastating effects of childhood traumas and to bring this awareness to men and women in prisons.


from Marsha Snulligan Haney

A Timely Message for 2023 from Rev. Ronald Bonner

UM Board Member and Pastor Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

Atlanta, GA 

Christmas Fragility


Friends, the Baby Jesus image as a metaphor reminds me that the Christmas

message is fragile. I further believe that we who are called by the name

Christian have a responsibility to understand and protect the fragility of the

Christmas message that God is with us. That the spirit of Christmas is the

embodiment of the wonderment of God’s grace and love in our lives.


I contend that the Christmas message of caring for others has been co-opted by a cultural concern and perhaps a need for consumerism. The message of being present has surrendered to the command of buying presents. Friends, when Christmas becomes more about bought gifts than God's gifts, the Christmas message's intent is broken.


Titus offers us a warning regarding the fragility of the Christmas message. He says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions and, in the present age, to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”


Willie James Jennings writes that people have come to view the theological through a pedagogical lens. In other words, some people let their culture dictate what and how they will view and apply the Christmas message. However, as Christians, we should view the culture through our Christian or Christmas lens and let that shape our social and cultural behaviors, values, and mores. Misfocus is the consequence of Christmas fragility when the church has forgotten how to renounce impiety, bad behavior, and sin. It is like looking at the fruit of a tree, and because it looks good, deciding to take a bite of the fruit, even when God said don’t.


The message of Christmas is just that fragile; in the twinkle of an eye, we can step over the line and break the intent of Christmas.


Because of stress, we may have forgotten how to wait patiently for the promise of Christmas to come full-term. In our ability to make things happen, we may have overlooked how to wait in the hope of the promise of God to be fully present in our lives.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked the question, "Who will celebrate Christmas correctly?” His reply

“Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manager.” This reminds me of Isaiah 11, “where the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, the lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” It convicts me of what peace on earth should look like. It convicts me of what the promise of God intends. Bonhoeffer's words further suggest that in observing the Christmas message, we should lay at the manager our gift of surrender to the will of God. The God who appeared in the flesh to save us all. We should lay our gift of surrender there so we can live in peace without deceit, harmony without arrogance, and love without fear.  


 And so, on a starry-starry night, some shepherds were watching their flocks, when suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and said, unto you this night in the city of David, a Savior, the Messiah was born.


We must guard the Christmas message of love for family, each other, and those we deem strangers, for Christ came to save us all, not just those we identify as our kind. And let us guard the Christmas message of love for ourselves, for each of you, declares the Lord, was fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of you are a gift of love in Christ. Let us be reminded that we need to be attentive to the whole Christmas message. If it is to grow and not become overrun by a return to the usual, day-to-day affairs of the routine, for that is the shortcut to forgetfulness.


In his poem about the work of Christmas, Howard Thurman reminds us about Christmas's fragility and focus.


“When the song of the angels is stilled,

 When the star in the sky is gone,

 When the kings and princes are home,

 When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

 The work of Christmas begins:

      To find the lost,

      To heal the broken,

      To feed the hungry,

      To release the prisoner,

      To rebuild the nations,

      To bring peace among the people,

      To make music in the heart.”


Let us consider these particular words of James, Bonhoeffer, and Thurman about guarding the Christmas message. Let us remember the sacred text: that unto us, a savior is born. Remember that we have a responsibility as Christians to protect the baby Jesus from those who would harm him. Let us remember that justice should triumph over false dichotomies of us versus them. Let us not forget that we are to love others as we love ourselves. Remember to be the peace we seek, for “blessed is the peacemaker.” And let us make beautiful music that allows all Creation to sing in a holy harmony in the key of godly righteousness. And let us, like Mary, ponder on these words in our hearts.


Habari Gani and Happy New Year.

An Inclusive American Democracy: Truth, Transformation and a Vigilant Commitment to Justice for All

By L. Rita Dixon, A Board Member of Urban Missiology and Teaching Elder of the Presbyterian Church (USA)



It is my hope that American Democracy will always be in a state of becoming …becoming more inclusive and welcoming of America’s growing diversity in such categories as race/ethnicity, age, class, gender and sexual orientations, marriage, ... an Inclusiveness Democracy with justice for all. This will require a lot of growth and commitment for “we the people.” It will require more of us to increase our capacity to care about justice for individuals and groups whose realities we do not understand.  It will take more of us to create and sustain an American Democracy with equity (according to the needs of each) for all of us. Leaders alone cannot do it


Until Donald Trump appeared on the scene in the 2016 Presidential election campaign, I had not thought of Democracy as being in crisis. I was still celebrating eight years of the first Black President, Barack Obama. To me, this was proof that at last American Democracy was working for African Americans. Little did I know that what seemed like progress for me and a majority of Americans, was carnage, decline, or a destruction of Democracy for at least a third or more Americans. So much so that they wanted to destroy it.


During my lifetime I have seen major changes in America’s Democracy, becoming more and more inclusive of America’s revealed diversity because of the unrelenting work of people who were vigilantly committed to justice for all. They are my mentors. Therefore, I am growing my commitment, understanding and advocacy for guarding and strengthening justice for all in our American Democracy, knowing that there will always be those who disagree and working in opposition to my desired outcome.


I was not political during my college years but was keenly aware of people around me advocating for integrated public schools, for voting rights and for the full civil rights of African Americans. After college I became engaged politically during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. I walked on picket lines for my right to eat in public restaurants, advocated for my right to vote, and my right to use restrooms and water fountains of my choice. I knew a lot about my rights from a democratic government but little about my responsibility to keep one. President Trump changed my outlook. Until his term in office, I was not aware of democracy’s fragility. President Trump gave me an awakening that continues to unfold.


In this article I share a brief overview of the growing crisis of American Democracy as I understand it mainly from watching the news and from the televised hearings presented by the House Select Committee. My intention is to heighten the awareness of ordinary citizens who, like me, may have a low awareness of our Democracy’s requirement. I also want to encourage us to use our gifts to guard and strengthen it to be more inclusive with justice for all. This is not an easy call for any of us but we have a great legacy from those who have given their lives for the rights, privileges, and freedoms that our Democracy currently allow.

I use the excellent resource that we have in the Final Report of the January 6th House Select Committee to present some statements from former Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Thompson and Vice Chair Cheney. First, let’s take a quick look at my take on recent history to provide some context for the discussion that follows.


Recent History: The 2016 Election Campaign through the 2022 Midterm Elections

I have followed closely former President Donald Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party towards an affinity for dictators and authoritarian rule from the time he emerged on the public scene as a candidate for President in the 2016 election. He campaigned under the slogan, “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) and to the surprise of many, he won. Even during that campaign, he said that if he did not win, the election was rigged. The seeds to undermining Democracy through the election process were already deep within his MAGA agenda.


President Trump’s habitual tendencies toward a “strong man” confrontational style, support of a White Supremacy ideology, tolerance for racial discrimination, and disrespect for women, gay people, disabled people and persons who were prisoners of war were shocking to say the least. His open friendship with dictators, expressed proclivity for violence and lack of respect for democratic norms became early signs of a more serious agenda. He was impeached twice during his one term in the White House, the first for abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The second for incitement of an insurrection.


During his term President Trump’s expressed values quickly became the revealed values of many Republicans. The leadership of the Republican Party quickly coalesced under the MAGA agenda. They created a MAGA movement which is openly opposed to an inclusive Democracy with justice for all. The former President has not yet acknowledged that he lost the 2020 election. Thus, there has been no peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden. The MAGA Republicans adopted President Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen even though all election Officials of both parties and several courts say that the election was fair and there was no widespread fraud.


The MAGA members are expert public liars, disinformation and conspiracy spreaders, election deniers, deniers of the facts of history, and pushers of a distorted understanding of Critical Race Theory as well as good at bending the law and facts to fit their own narrative. Their apparent intention is to create their own reality in order to to keep citizens confused and unable to recognize truth. These continue to be major weapons against democracy.


American Democracy barely survived MAGA’s almost successful attempts to dismantle it during the 2020 election campaign. According to the Select Committee hearings President Trump led election deniers in a seven-pronged planned attempt to keep President Trump in office. It started long before the election and ended in a January 6, 2021 insurrection on the Capital of the United States. Their assault on Democracy continued through 2022 and into 2023 through various forms of political activity. We can celebrate Democracy’s narrow victory in the November 2022 midterm elections, but not too long because it is still in dire danger.


The Forewords from the House Select Committee Final Report

The United States House Select Bipartisan Committee was formed on July1, 2021 to investigate the January 6th insurrection. It was charged with investigating the facts, circumstances and causes that led to this domestic terror attack on the Capitol, the Congress and the Constitution. They held six public hearings in June of 2022, two in July, one in October and one in December. The Committee issued its final 845-page report on December 22, 2022, three days before Christmas. The report provides eight chapters of details on the attack of our Democracy. The Final Report of the Select Committee can be accessed by anyone for free by inserting in your search engine.

Many citizens, like me, are more than familiar with many of the details of the report because they have followed them through many hours of daily news sources and saw the ten televised committee hearings. I have not read the final report but the creative listing of the eight chapters in the table of content gives excellent pointers to the content of each chapter. The chapter titles caught my attention first because they repeat familiar phrases that I had internalizing from so many news sources over the past 7 years.  I highly recommend that the reader begin with the Final Report’s table of contents. It is well done! We can tackle the report one chapter at a time. My sense is each chapter will read like a novel or a mystery story.


The Report begins with three foreword statements of varying lengths, followed by the Executive Summary of almost 200 pages. It contains the Referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel and House Ethics Committee. I copied the forewords and share with you select paragraphs and sentences that particularly speak to me.    


Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

This is a one-page statement in the Final Report. The following paragraphs stand out for me.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Chairman Bennie Thompson, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, the patriotic Members of Congress and dedicated staff—who devoted themselves to this investigation, to uncovering the truth and to writing a report that is a “Roadmap for Justice”


“The Select Committee…has succeeded in bringing clarity and demonstrating with painstaking details the fragility of our Democracy. Above all, the work of the Select Committee underscores that our democratic institutions are only as strong as the commitment of those who are entrusted with their care.”


“As the Select Committee concludes its work, their words must be a clarion call to all Americans: to vigilantly guard our Democracy and give our vote to those dutiful in their defense of our constitution”   


My Reflections

I join Speaker Pelosi in giving heartfelt gratitude to the Select Committee for the great job they did on shedding light on some of the mysteries of the Trump led MAGA activities. The hearings were excellent, awakening much of the American public who appeared to be unaware of the danger we faced. Is this Report a roadmap to justice? We will see.


I do believe that this committee brought truth to a world of lies and conspiracy theories. They did a great job of informing the American public by letting us hear from the witnesses who were almost entirely Republicans, many from former President Trump’s inner circle. It was hard to say “a Democratic witch hunt” after hearing the testimonies of Trump’s own Staff and Republican leaders. During the ten hearing we heard them reveal some of the inner secrets of Trump and his allies. We saw many courageous Trump staff members tell the truth, in spite of his attempt to bribe them to lie.  


Chairman Bennie G. Thompson.

This is a 5-page statement in the Final Report. The following paragraphs and sentences caught my attention.


“I have been a Member of the House for nearly 30 years. In that time, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel a profound sense of duty and responsibility to the men and women who sent me to Congress to be their voice. After all, I am from a part of the country where, in my lifetime, Black people were excluded entirely from political processes. Jim Crow laws prevented my father from registering to vote, and tragically during his life, he never cast a vote.”


“However, that long struggle to overcome oppression and secure basic civil and human rights continues to be my highest priority. I am always mindful of the journey that brought me to Washington as a member of congress to be the voice of the men and women of Mississippi. …Additionally, I constantly think about the ongoing struggle to ensure justice and equality for all American” 


“The failure of Trump’s plan was not assured. To the contrary, Trump’s plan was successful at several turns. When his scheme to stay in power through political pressure hit roadblocks, he relentlessly pushed ahead with a parallel plan: summoning a mob to gather in Washington, DC on January 6th, promising things “will be wild”


“But preventing another January 6th will require a broader sort of Accountability. Ultimately, the American People chart the course for our country’s future. …If this Select Committee has accomplished one thing, I hope it has shed light on how dangerous it would be to empower anyone whose desire for authority comes before their commitment to American Democracy and the Constitution.”


“I believe most Americans will turn their backs on those enemies of Democracy”


“But some will rally to the side of the election deniers, and when I think about who some of those people are, it troubles me deep inside. White supremacists. Violent extremist. Groups that subscribe to racism, antisemitism, and violent conspiracy theories; those who would march through the halls of the Capitol waving the Confederate battle flag.”


“We can never surrender to democracy’s enemies…We can never go backward in the progress we have made through the sacrifice and dedication of true patriots. We can never and will never relent in our pursuit of a more perfect union, with liberty and Justice for all Americans.”


My Reflections

I resonate with Chairman Thompson’s story. It also reflects my socialization in Georgia during the 1930’s through to the present. We cannot allow the MAGA conspiracy spreaders and history deniers minimize the realities of others, both historical and present, in order to fit the false narrative, they want to tell their children. So many Americans of all races, gender, sexual orientations and ages (remember the children, the fire hoses and the dogs of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement) have given their lives to make American Democracy be more just for all of us.


American Democracy has evolved, not on its own, to its current state and we will continue to evolve it, hopefully, toward justice for all. With the midterm elections of 2022 still fresh in our memory, too many election deniers have seats in the 118th Congress. MAGA Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives for the next two years. So, I agree with Chairman Thompson ‘s statement “Trump’s plan was successful at several turns.” I wish I shared his confidence that “the majority of American people will turn their backs on the enemies of democracy” and that “we can never go backward in the progress we have made through the sacrifice and dedication of true patriots.” We must never forget that every democratic freedom we enjoy today was fought for by someone. We all stand on the shoulders of many. At the same time there are powerful forces working to go back.


Vice Chair Liz Cheney.

This is a four-page statement in the Final Report.


“In our work over the last 18 months, the Select committee has recognized our obligation to do everything we can to ensure this never happens again. At the outset of our investigation, we recognized that tens of millions of Americans had been persuaded by President Trump that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen by overwhelming fraud. We always knew that this was flatly false, and that dozens of state and federal judges had addressed and resolved all manner of allegations about the election. Our legal system functioned as it should, but our President would not accept the outcome.”


“What most of the public did not know before our investigation is this: Donald Trump’s own campaign officials told him early on that his claim of election fraud was false. Donald Trump’s senior Justice Department officials—each appointed by Donald Trump himself---investigated the allegations and told him repeatedly that his fraud claims were false. Donald Trump’s White House lawyers also told him his fraud claims were false. From the beginning, Donald Trump’s fraud allegations were concocted nonsense, designed to prey upon the patriotism of millions of men and women who love our country.”


“In presenting all of the information in our hearings, we decided that the vast majority of our witnesses needed to be Republicans. They were. We presented evidence from two former Trump Administration Attorneys General, a former White House Counsel, many former Trump-appointed White House, Justice Department, and Trump Campaign staff, a respected former conservative judge, the former Secretary of Labor, and many others.”


“The late Charles Krauthammer wrote, ‘the lesson of our history is that the task of merely maintaining strong and sturdy the structures of a constitutional order is unending, the continuing and ceaseless work of every generation.’ This task is unending because democracy can be fragile and our institutions do not defend themselves.”


“The history of our time will show that the bravery of a handful of Americans, doing their duty, saved us from an even more grave Constitutional Crisis. Elected officials, election workers, and public servants stood against Donald Trump’s corrupt pressure. Many of our witnesses showed selfless patriotism and their words and courage will be remembered.”

“The brave men and women of the Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police and all the other law enforcement officers who fought to defend us that day undoubtedly saved lives and our democracy.


My Reflections

Vice Chair Cheney and the other Republican on the Select Committee, Representative Adam Kinzinger paid a high price for being on the Select Committee. They were courageous and served passionately. I admire and respect their courage.


My socialization as a Southern African American makes it difficult for me to understand that tens of millions of Americans believed President Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Most African American that I know never believed the lie. We knew his character, his behavior and his ego. We watched him during the 2016 campaign remove his Republican competitors one after another by belittling and branding them, often with false information; We watched him lie his way through the pandemic; we saw his cruelty to the children at the border and we heard him say “there was bravery on both sides” when the Far-Right Extremists and White Nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, VA. We knew who President Trump was and what he was capable of. We just didn’t know how fragile democracy was and that he could seemingly get away with his assault.


Vice Chair Cheney’s statement that many Americans believed President Trump reminded me that the diversity of American citizens live in different realities. Many Americans would find it easy to believe President Trump. He was a rich White male movie star who presented himself as America’s Strong Man who was the only one who could fix whatever was wrong. Too many of us romanticize the strong male who can fix everything image.


The unending responsibility for guarding our fragile democracy belongs to every American. Mrs. Coretta Scott King reminded us that every generation would have to fight for justice anew. Those who were courageous enough to be truthful witnesses in the face of Trump’s cruelty have set a good example for what the fight includes. Truth matters!


Truth, Transformation and a Commitment to Justice for All

“Tell the truth and shame the devil” was a common and often repeated teaching in my childhood African American community. My mother always said “If you tell one lie, you will have to tell another to back it up, then another…then you will lose touch with reality and start to believe your own lies.” I wonder if that is what happened to Mr. Trump and some of the MAGA leaders.  On January 21, 2021 an Independent News source said that Former President Trump averaged 21 lies a day and more than 30,000 while he was in the White House. A New York Times opinion article said he was trying to create an Alternate Reality in which facts do not matter.


Fact-based truth is a foundation of justice in any democratic country. It has the incredible power to builds trust and respect for human dignity. Lies destroy and disrespect humanity. During the hearings I was inspired by and grateful to the brave people from Trump’s inner circle telling the truth about what they had witnessed or heard to the Jan.6 Select Committee. At least one of the witnesses said that her conscious pushed her to be truthful. She had to make a choice in order to be at peace. Her authenticity opened, warmed and encouraged my heart.

Senator Warnock said in his 2022 victory speech “…all of us have a choice to make. Will we continue to divide, distract, and dishonor one another or will we love our neighbor as ourselves?” In this same speech he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King who said about humanity, “We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


Beyond fact-based truth, but not unrelated, is Ultimate Truth which is also a Greater Love that I call God, humanity’s Divine Parent. You, the reader, may use different language to describe your Spiritual Source or you may not believe in Greater Source. Use whatever personal path you walk for inner growth and transformation. I turn to God, Ultimate Truth, to empower me expand my circle of acceptance, respect, and hopefully love for those I do not understand, find it difficult to respect, and pray to genuinely want the same wellbeing, freedom and justice for them that I want for myself. As my circle of caring slowly expand to be more inclusive I call that process transformation.


Most of us are more tribal than we think. We are caught in a socialized perception of reality that is very narrow. This makes it difficult for us to see the realities of groups or even individuals that differ from us. This often causes us to dishonor, disrespect, or minimize through our words, and actions people’s realities we don’t understand. We all must make a choice to expand our circle of caring about justice for others, especially those whose realities are very, very different from our own. They may or may not be our neighbor. We must want for everyone the freedom, dignity, and justice we want for ourselves. It will require a vigilant commitment to justice for all.


Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Thompson and Vice Chair Cheney made statements about the important role that America’s citizen must play in defending and strengthening our Democracy. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt says in their book, “How Democracies Die” the following

“Our constitutional system, while older and more robust than any in history, is vulnerable to the same pathologies that have killed democracy elsewhere. Ultimately then American Democracy depends on us---the citizens of the United States. No single political leader can end a democracy; no single leader can rescue one, either. Democracy is a shared enterprise. Its fate depends on all of us."

My hope and prayer in writing and sharing this article is that it will encourage those who are already engaged to keep working to strengthen our Democracy to serves a diverse American population always committed to justice for all. I also hope it will motivate others to become more vigilant in monitoring the election processes, leaders and laws at every level of government--- local, state and federal. This requires being informed which can be time demanding, requiring some organizing and sharing with affinity groups. We must never give our vote to those who are trying to destroy Democracy, deny Black History and others realities, and minimize human freedom and dignity. This is a learning curve for most of us, a calling that will grow us to be greater than we are. Being a  vigilant advocate for justice for all is a sacred commitment.

Rev. Dr. John Perkins - Justice and the Management of God's Resources 


Dr. Haney’s Note: This repost presents a community development advocate and practitioner that is unfamiliar

to many. I first heard about John Perkins when I worked with the Christian Council of Metropolitan Atlanta,

and a community advocate, Rev. Bernice Warren visited Mendenhall Ministries. John Perkins and his family

have been ministering among the poor for more than 50 years. In 1960, Perkins, his wife, Vera Mae, and their

children left a successful life in California and moved back to Mendenhall, Mississippi, to begin ministry.

8 over 80: At 92, John Perkins still mobilizes Christian communities. ‘Justice is an economic issue,’ Perkins

said in the interview. ‘It’s the management and stewardship of God’s resources on the Earth.’

John Perkins in 2016. Photo by Deryll Stegall

August 4, 2022, By Adelle M. Banks. This is the first in a series of eight profiles of American religious leaders

who are still making an impact after the age of 80.


(RNS) — At 8 a.m. on Tuesdays in July, as usual, John Perkins was participating in his weekly Zoom Bible study. Officially the leader and the attraction for the more than 200 who log on each week, Perkins is far from the sole speaker, and that’s the way he wants it.

“I’m learning from them because they are doing really good research,” said Perkins, 92, of his co-leaders, both pastors and lay people, each of whom teaches from their perspective. “We want our Bible class to be a model of what the influential pastor or the influential leader can do back in their own hometown.” This collective approach has been Perkins’ way of doing ministry since he began.


In November, shortly after having surgery for colon cancer, Perkins went where he has gone for years: the annual meeting of the Christian Community Development Association that he helped organize decades before. It was worth the journey from Mississippi to Missouri, he said, to see his friends and to continue to motivate them while he could. “Really to pass on, in my own way, this mission that we have arrived at together,” he said in a phone interview. “I just came to encourage and to say goodbye.”

A farewell tour it may be, but Perkins has been in motion as long as he’s been in ministry, moving mostly between his native Mississippi to California and back, always focused on his goals of transforming communities through faith and racial reconciliation. Along the way Perkins has overcome the deaths of loved ones and his onetime hatred of white people, who included police who took the life of his brother and, years later, nearly killed him. Perkins, who at times was one of the few Black leaders in predominantly white evangelical settings, credits particular Caucasians for being there for him to introduce him to the Christian faith, bind his wounds and comfort him when he was mourning.

Born in 1930, Perkins lost his mother to starvation when he was just 7 months old. When he was 16, his brother was killed by a police chief after the young man grabbed the blackjack the officer had used to strike him. Perkins fled to California in the 1940s after his brother’s death and a decade later launched a union of foundry workers in that state. After the Korean War broke out, he was drafted and served three years in Okinawa, Japan, and, back stateside, later became a Christian and was ordained a Baptist minister.

Returning to his native state in 1960, Perkins turned out to be as much an organizer as a clergyman. He started a ministry in Mendenhall that provided day care, youth programs, cooperative farming and health care. He registered Black voters and boycotted white retailers. When he visited college students at a Brandon, Mississippi, jail who had been arrested after a protest in 1970, he was tortured — “beaten almost to death,” he writes in his latest book — by law enforcement officers. After recovering he moved to Jackson, Mississippi’s capital, where he mentored college students. 


In 1976, Perkins published his influential book “Let Justice Roll Down,” codifying his principles of relocation, redistribution and reconciliation — known as Perkins’ “Three Rs”— as a way to address systemic racism with social action. “Justice is an economic issue,” Perkins told Religion News Service. “It’s the management and stewardship of God’s resources on the Earth.”

In 2006 Christianity Today placed “Let Justice Roll Down” at No. 14 on a list of the top 50 books that had shaped evangelicals over the previous five decades. Ron Sider, former president of Evangelicals for Social Action (now Christians for Social Action), said Perkins has “phenomenal” influence, cultivating — possibly more than “any single American” — holistic ministries meeting both spiritual and physical needs of people in rural and urban settings.

The ministry at Sider’s Mennonite church in Philadelphia, said Sider in an interview before his death on July 27, “is modeled on John Perkins, as are hundreds of others around the country.” Perkins encouraged “collective prosperity,” where wealth is distributed equitably, and living in neighborhoods close to the poor, something he has done in the South and in the West. “I’d say a lot of white suburban folks like me were deeply challenged by his call to justice and to the three Rs of his ministry,” said Jo Kadlecek, communication manager of Baptist World Aid Australia, who was inspired by “Let Justice Roll Down” and later co-authored a book with Perkins after he sought her out. “‘You know Jesus didn’t commute from heaven,’ he’d say frequently, referring to urban ministers’ belief that Christians who help poor and underserved communities should consider residing near them. 

Perkins returned to California in the 1980s — in part to hand off the leadership of what he’d built in Mississippi, to let others develop those skills — and Perkins’ family founded the Harambee Christian Family Center in a high-crime area of Pasadena, offering after-school and teen programs and providing urban missions training to visiting church work groups. “You win the trust of parents, you win the trust of community leaders, because you’re proving, day by day, that you want to develop children and young people,” said Rudy Carrasco, who served as the center’s executive director and is now a program director for the Murdock Charitable Trust in Vancouver, Washington. “I learned that from John Perkins. … And he’s doing it now.”


In 1989, Perkins co-founded the CCDA, taking his ideas from his own books and his own previous ministries to fashion an organization that urges thousands of annual conference attendees to focus on building churches and sharing the gospel in local communities while also renovating houses, hosting medical clinics and tutoring schoolchildren to prepare them for college.

Sider said Perkins’ efforts on racial reconciliation contributed to the “evangelical center” growing more diverse to the point that the National Association of Evangelicals — on whose board Perkins served in the 1980s — now has an African American board chair, an Asian American president and a woman vice chair. “That’s enormous progress, and it’s the sort of thing that John’s influence has helped to create,” Sider said. 

In the 1990s, after returning to Jackson, Perkins founded the Spencer Perkins Center, named for his son who died suddenly in 1998 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 44. The center focused, as had other ministries of his father, on evangelism, affordable housing and helping poor children and families.

The elder Perkins has summed up his life’s work and learnings in what he calls his “manifesto,” a trilogy of books that concluded with the publication in September of “Count It All Joy: The Ridiculous Paradox of Suffering.” In the book, Perkins recounts some of the tragedies he has faced but talks of suffering as a part of faith, rather than a failure of it. “This is the message that I want to leave as a witness to the next generation,” he writes in the introduction. “It’s not only given that we should believe on God, but that we should suffer for His namesake.” Shane Claiborne, co-founder of Red Letter Christians and who has known and worked with Perkins for more than 20 years, said Perkins has long demonstrated “ministry of presence.” Claiborne said Perkins’ approach to Bible study, whether early in the morning at CCDA conferences or online on YouTube and Facebook, is symbolic of the way he has lived his life. “Almost everything that John does is collaborative,” said Claiborne, who co-wrote with him the 2009 book “Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical,” and has joined Perkins in an online Bible study, as has megachurch pastor Rick Warren and civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson. Participants “might not have all the same theological assumptions, but they’ve got some wisdom he wants them to share and they’re his friends,” Claiborne said.


Perkins has been trying to build co-laborers rather than view himself as the only one to emulate. “My dad, he has a hard time with people thinking that he is this person that people should be following,” Priscilla Perkins, co-president of her parents’ foundation, said as the Nov. 1 online Bible study came to a close. “No, it’s Christ that we’re following, so we want to make sure that everybody knows that.”

Over the last two decades, institutions of higher learning such as evangelical Calvin University and historically Black Jackson State University have recognized her father with a program, or with a scholarship named in honor of Perkins and his wife, Vera Mae.

Seattle Pacific University has had a John Perkins Center since 2004 and has held trainings, lectures and a day of service for incoming students in hopes of moving them from charitable to community development activities. John Perkins Center Executive Director Caenisha Warren said Perkins’ principles have become ingrained in her. She recalled seeing an article about adding a fourth R to the 3 R’s. She started reading it, “only to discover it was talking about the other 3 R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic, when I truly assumed it was the Perkins 3 R’s – relocation, redistribution, reconciliation,” she said in an email to RNS. Perkins once said he didn’t want buildings in his name because they might not last. “I have to say it: It feels good,” he said of the programs named for him. But his sense of satisfaction does not mean he feels the work he accomplished with his wife of seven decades has been sufficient.

“Deep down in my heart I find joy, but I also see that we could have done more,” said Perkins, who was honored in June as a Black Christian “elder” at a Museum of the Bible gala. “But I’m thankful as I look back at it.”

Islam’s Contributions to African-American Greatness

by Imam Michael “Mikal” Saahir


Qur’an – “For We assuredly sent amongst every People an apostle, (with the Command), "Serve Allah, and

eschew Evil": of the People were some whom Allah guided, and some on whom error became inevitably

(established). So travel through the earth, and see what was the end of those who denied (the Truth).”

Sura (chapter) 16:36 - (Yusuf Ali translation)


African-American greatness is well-rooted in soil that has been tilled and refined by the hands of many great

leaders who had our best interest in mind as we – by the Will of G_d, expressed in scripture and nature –

rose up as a New People from the nadir of the worse slavery in the known history of mankind. American

slavery was a peculiar form of slavery that failed to reach its goal of total annihilation of our human essence;

but it was successful – for a few centuries – in robbing us of our African-ness, and our humanity; thus making

our racial/ethnic group, a new people on Mother Earth. Therefore, to begin speaking about contributions to

African American greatness we have to remind ourselves of the depth from which we rise, or as

Mother Maya Angelo prosed, “And Still I Rise!” 

World history has documented that one of the greatest achievements of Africans, pre-American slavery was our Islamic lives on the Motherland. The Kingdoms of Mali, Timbuktu, Songhai and other Islamic communities earned the nicknames “City of Books” and “Cities of Gold” as witnessed in men such as Mansa Musa. This is a snippet of our African Islamic greatness before being enslaved by a European version of Christianity that had very little – if any – regard for the human value of the children of Africa.

Our sojourn, as a stolen people who are trying to find their way back to the human excellence that we were created for, has been a dignified struggle; but as Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, taught, “No son of Adam enjoyed a meal better than the meal he prepared with his own two hands.” Dr. Martin Luther King reflected this same message when he declared, “No Lincolnian Emancipation Proclamation can do this for us...If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.” This is where Islam (properly called, “Al-Islam”) shines as a major contributor to the rebuilding, or the remaking of our African American greatness as a new people in creation.


The CBC Massey Lectures (January 2022)

Out of the Sun: On Race and Storytelling

by Esi Edugyan's CBC Massey Lectures

The acclaimed novelist illuminates the Black experience in global culture

and history in her six-part lectures                           

CBC Radio · Posted: Jan 24, 2022 7:16 AM ET | Last Updated: January 31


Through storytelling with analyses of contemporary events and her own personal story, Giller Prize-winning Canadian author Esi Edugyan's six-part Massey Lectures examines Black histories in art, offering new perspectives to challenge us. (Tamara Poppitt, Alysia Shewchuk/House of Anansi Press)


The CBC Massey Lectures are available on CBC Listen, as well as several other popular podcast apps, including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and more. You can also stream each episode as they release below.

NOTE:  It is the Rev. Dr. Marjorie Lewis of Arcadia University, Canada who remind us that every February, people in Canada are invited to participate in Black History Month festivities and events that honour the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. "The stories we tell about the dead act as clarifying narratives to explain what has shaped us, and what continues to make us who we are," argues Esi Edugyan in her second Massey Lecture. However, she asks: who is being forgotten and why? When some histories are forgotten, we all lose. Recovering our ghosts is a way of redressing the narrative.

Doctors have dehumanized Black people for centuries. If you crack open a medical textbook, chances are every illustration inside will be of a Caucasian person. For the full article by Elizabeth Segran see (in Fast Company 12/09/2021)

Doctors have dehumanized Black people for centuries. This illustrator (

Ms. Chana Shapiro and her husband Dr. Rabbi Zvi Shapiro are active members of Urban Missiology’s Board of Advisors. She is also a regular contributor to the Atlanta Jewish Times. Her 2021 Hashanah message (September 2021) can be found at

We are delighted that Chana will offer a free writers’ workshop in 2022. This will be in person, in the Metro Atlanta area, for the first 30 people who register. People of all faiths who want to explore what it takes to become a writer are welcome. Registration details to follow on the UM website.

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Legendary African American Kosher Cooks 

Mamie “Geffen” Walden; Katie Walden; Nellie Peterson, Sally Hillsman,

 Catherine Wofford, India Wallace


by Chana Shapiro


In the first half of the twentieth century, skilled African-American women worked as cooks in kosher Jewish homes in Atlanta and in neighboring southern towns, and some of them went on to establish their own successful catering businesses.


It all began in Rebbitzen Sara Hene Geffen’s kitchen.


Rabbi Tobias and Sara Hene Geffen were the Rabbi and Rebbitzen of Congregation Shearith Israel in Atlanta from 1910-1970. In the late 1920’s, African American cook, Mamie Smith Walden, was hired and soon became an integral member of the Geffen household. She was so closely associated with her prominent Geffen employers, she was widely known as “Mamie Geffen,” and her obituary, singularly unique for an African American cook and caterer in a Jewish newspaper at the time, appeared in the 1976 Southern Israelite, under the name “Mamie Geffen.” Rabbi Geffen wrote the tribute himself.

Mamie Geffen


Rebbitzen Sara Hene Geffen taught Walden the detailed laws of kosher cooking, and over the years with the Geffen family, she became completely fluent in Yiddish. Later, during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Nellie Peterson, another African American cook, worked for the Geffens, where she mastered the laws of kashrut, along with  Yiddish.


The Geffen’s grandson who now lives in Israel, Rabbi David Geffen, recalls: 

"My grandmother, Sara Hene, was very close with Mamie Walden, who conversed with my grandparents in Yiddish. She understood the rules of kashrut, and my grandparents completely trusted her cooking and baking. She mastered Ashkenazi culinary classics, including kneidlach, gefilte fish, cheese pie, cheese kugel and blintzes. My great aunt Annette Geffen Raskas’ husband owned a kosher dairy in St. Louis, and he sent the Geffens kosher essentials every month, with which my grandmother taught Mamie to create traditional kosher dairy foods."


Mamie and Nellie cooked for other kosher families, too, including Rabbi Harry and Riva Epstein of Congregation Ahavath Achim. Even when Mamie had big, lucrative catering jobs, she helped my grandparents prepare for Pesach.


Both Mamie Walden and Nellie Peterson became premier kosher Atlanta caterers, Walden until the late 1970’s and Peterson through the 1980’s. They were always heavily-booked because of their organizational expertise and ability to adapt a ‘gourmet’ menu to kosher standards. Walden, even built a separate fully-stocked kosher kitchen in her home, where she, who personally observed the laws of kashrut, scrupulously prepared all of her own meals and from which she often catered.


Walden and her sister Katie, who had worked for the Geffen’s daughter-in-law, Anna Geffen, went on to train other African American women in kosher cooking. One of them was Sally Hillsman.


Sally Hillsman


Sally Hillsman, an African-American Atlanta caterer, was an accomplished disciple of Millie and Katie Walden and Nellie Peterson when she started working with Stanley Birnbaum.


Stanley Birnbaum’s kosher catering business in the 1980’s and ‘90’s began as a sidleline but soon expanded. In need of an assistant and co-chef, Birmbaum hired experienced Hillsman, who had catered for the Atlanta Jewish Federation and knew how to apply her ethnic southern-style cooking to Ashkenazi cuisine. Although, she had a wide spectrum of admired dishes in her repertory, local lore has it that her kosher fried chicken and fried okra were among the most memorable items served at Birnbaums’ catered events.


Birnbaum was a talented amateur cook who initially began catering for Congregation Beth Jacob celebrations and retreats. When he decided to expand his business, in addition to hiring Hillsman, he often brought her daughters, Jackie and Barbara Jean, to work with them. Hillsman was responsible for selecting and personally supervising a top-notch kitchen staff of African-American women, most of whom had some experience in kosher cooking. In addition to events at Congregation Beth Jacob, Birnbaum and Hillsman’s team catered for other Atlanta synagogues, including Or Veshalom Israeli bond dinners. For many years, they ran kosher events at the elegant Peachtree Plaza Hotel in downtown Atlanta, which had a kosher-equipped kitchen.


Catherine Wofford; India Wallace


Jewish families in Dalton, Georgia, got their kosher meat from Chattanooga or Atlanta, packed in dry ice and sent on a bus, which was then picked up and often prepared by knowledgeable home cooks. Esther and Sam Millender, who moved to Dalton as newlyweds in 1930, employed African-American Catherine Wofford as cook and housekeeper from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. Esther and her mother taught Wofford the rules and recipes of kosher cuisine; however, Wofford was so respectful of the kosher laws and traditions that she would not cook in their kitchen unless Esther or Esther’s mother was present.


At Temple Beth El in Dalton, along with congregational women, local African-American women served as kosher caterers and cooks for events held in the social hall. The most memorable of these women was named India Wallace. She reigned supreme in the synagogue kitchen with her hand-picked assistants. Her culinary presentations were elegant and elaborate, and India had to be booked to cater events well in advance. Jewish families depended on her to arrange Bar and Bat Mitzvah receptions, holiday dinners, and other celebrations. She was stylish, dignified, and greatly respected.


Esther and Sam Millenders’ son, Ivan, notes: "

There was a ‘pecking order’ among the network of the African American ‘kosher specialists’. Most of the cooks spoke and understood some Yiddish. I was told that the reason the Jewish families had the finest cooks in town was that our families paid them better than the non-Jewish families, and always on time. I’m sure that’s true."


The African American women described in the above paragraphs used their intelligence, fortitude and skills to build successful careers as chefs and caterers. With their knowledge and experience as respected kosher cooks in and around Jewish Atlanta, they often had the opportunity to hire, train and educate others who follow in their footsteps.













“My first words were ‘Are you serious?’” recalled The Root 100 and Time 100 honoree Ibram X. Kendi upon learning that he’d also been chosen as a 2021 MacArthur fellow—and the recipient of one of the foundation’s “Genius” grants.

Those familiar with Kendi’s 2019 bestseller How to Be an Antiracist (or previous opus, Stamped from the Beginning) might not have been surprised, but as Kendi told the New York Times, “It’s very meaningful—I think to anyone who studies a topic where there’s a lot of acrimony and a lot of pain—to be recognized...and this is one of the greatest forms of that I have ever received.”

Kendi joins an illustrious and extremely diverse group of 25 MacArthur fellows this year, each of whom also receive a “no-strings-attached” $625,000 “genius” grant from the foundation. Among the 11 Black fellows on this year’s list are artist Daniel Lind-Ramos; poet and lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts; essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib; writer and curator Nicole R. Fleetwood (author of the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration; civil rights activist Desmond Meade, biological physicist Ibrahim Cissé; historian and writer Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and film scholar, archivist, and curator Jacqueline Stewart. Painter Jordan Casteel is the youngest fellow at 32, while the oldest is 70-year-old Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founder of Urban Bush Women.

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible,” said MacArthur Fellows Managing Director Cecilia Conrad in a statement. “They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries...Once again, we have the opportunity for exultation as we recognize the potential to create objects of beauty and awe, advance our understanding of society, and foment change to improve the human condition,” she added.

While there is no “theme” to each year’s class of fellows, the Times notes that “virtually all this year’s winners outside the sciences do work relating to social and racial justice,” reinforcing a commitment by the foundation “to support ‘an equitable recovery from the pandemic and combat anti-Blackness, uplift Indigenous Peoples and improve public health equity,’” via $80 million in grants.

The money is no doubt a huge perk of the honor, but as Kendi told the Times: “There is nothing like being recognized by your peers...We’re all creating, writing and functioning in communities. We as individuals are nothing without the communities where we create and work.”

Meet the 2021 MacArthur Fellows

Black Excellence.jpg

Black Excellence by Maiysha Kai

Over a third of the 25 geniuses are Black; 2021 fellows also include Hanif Abdurraqib, Reginald Dwayne Betts and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.


Ibram X. Kendi at Build Studio on March 10, 2020 in New York City; Jordan Casteel attends DEPARTURES 30th Anniversary Event on September 17, 2019 in New York City; Daniel Lind-Ramos attends Perez Art Museum Miami Art Of The Party on March 7, 2020 in Miami, Florida.Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images), Bennett Raglin (Getty Images), Aaron Davidson (Getty Images)

The Origins of the National Black Family Reunion

"Steadfast and Strong" is the National Black Family Reunion theme,

August 20-22, 2021.  Conceived by Dr. Dorothy I. Height, President Emerita

of the National Council of Negro Women, the Black Family Reunion

Celebration is a 3-day cultural weekend event that brings consumers,

corporations, and communities together to focus on the historic strengths

and values of the Black Family. The National Council of Negro Women is

dedicated to ensuring that the landmark morals of the Black family are

showcased and reinforced through responsive and innovative community

service programs, such as the Black Family Reunion Celebration. The

Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration was inaugurated in

1989 in Cincinnati, Ohio. This event continues to grow and is now one of

Cincinnati's most significant family-focused events drawing over 20,000

patrons. It is held annually on the third weekend of August.


The reprint below is as urgent today as it was during Dr. Dorothy Heights day.

DEMAND EQUITYDorothy Height's "Model of Activism" Is still urgently needed today. She dedicated her life to civil rights and voter awareness.


From left, Morris Dosewell from the American Labor Council; Dorothy Height from the National Committee Negro Women; Alexander Allen from the Urban League; Basil Paterson from the NAACP and Bayard Rustin, the director of the Philips Randolph Institute. | From left, Morris Dosewell from the American Labor Council; Dorothy Height from the National Committee Negro Women; Alexander Allen from the Urban League; Basil Paterson from the NAACP and Bayard Rustin, the director of the Philips Randolph Institute, are photographed meeting with Mayor Robert Wagner in New York on June 4, 1965. | AP Photo


By Joe McCarthy,  September 18, 2018

Global Citizen


Racist poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, violence, and various other tactics lowered black voter registration in the southern United States, plummeting from more than 90% during Reconstruction to a mere 3% in the 1940s.


That was the Jim Crow political climate that Dorothy Height — born in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia — entered as she began her lifelong career of activism. She knew that abysmal voting access in the South made a mockery of the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution, written after the Civil War to grant black men the right to vote, and the 19th amendment, achieved in 1920 to give women suffrage. At the time it often seemed like a fixed situation, with the Ku Klux Klan marauding through communities and segregation violently enforced in everyday life. But Height was determined to make sure this unjust disenfranchisement didn't last forever.


So she began advocating. As a teenager growing up in Rankin, Pennsylvania, she participated in voter registration drives and anti-lynching protests. These efforts often took place in the face of bitter opposition, and they instilled in Height a steely resolve — a conviction that perseverance can overcome bigotry.


Her skill as a leader was apparent early on. While in high school, she gained national prominence by winning an oratory contest on the Constitution in which she was the only black contestant participating in front of an all-white panel of judges. Height spoke about the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, known as the Reconstruction Amendments, and she took home the prize.


Despite this acclaim, Height's form of leadership never sought the spotlight — a trait that would be become clear in future decades when her instrumental work in the civil rights movement was largely left out of headlines and history books.


"Stop worrying about whose name gets in the paper and start doing something about rats, and day care and low wages," she said after receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004, at the age of 92. "We must try to take our task more seriously and ourselves more lightly."


But history has since set the record straight. After Height died in 2010 at the age of 98, former President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy and described her as "the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans … [who] devoted her life to those struggling for equality … witnessing every march and milestone along the way."


In fact, Height was busy advocating for equal rights to the very end. She visited Obama in the White House 21 times to talk about health care, civil rights, and other issues.  


"We don't need the marches that we had in the past," she told NPR in 2008. "But we need more consideration in looking at the boardroom tables and at the policies that are going on, looking at what's happening in industry, what's happening in terms of employment opportunities, housing and the like. So that I think it opens up a new way for us to look at our community."


Height's focus on the bigger picture in the pursuit of justice was also clear from the beginning. As a teenager, she had a full scholarship to go to Barnard College in New York, but when she arrived, the dean told her that she wouldn't be able to attend because they had already reached their quota for black students.


This institutional racism stung, but Height hopped on the subway, presented her Barnard acceptance letter to New York University, and was accepted on the spot. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education and master's in psychology, setting herself up for a life committed to civil rights.


After college, she first worked as a caseworker for city's welfare system and then joined the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), a nonprofit dedicated to combating racism and empowering women.


Her first major campaign at the YWCA was to expose the exploitation of female domestic workers, who would congregate in what were called "slave markets" to be picked up to go work in the suburbs surrounding New York. Height's advocacy triggered an investigation by the New York City Council, where her testimony helped to temporarily disperse the markets.

Soon, she was elevated to the top of the organization, where she helped run operations for three decades.


In many ways, Height was a pioneer of intersectionality, the idea that each person's identity stems from multiple characteristics of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual preference, and more, and approached her activism in this holistic manner.


She always championed community solidarity. In the 1980s, Height inaugurated the Black Family Reunion Celebration to counter harmful media stereotypes and hundreds of thousands of people showed up to Washington. The event has been held ever since. In the 1960s, she organized events to give pigs away to poor families, and arranged for women of different backgrounds from northern states to meet women in southern states to assist in voting drives and education programs.  


For the full article see:

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Our Time Is Now!

Celebrating a New Journal that Explores Black Women and Religious Cultures

by Dr. Rosetta E. Ross, Professor of Religion, Spelman College

Founder and Editor, Black Women and Religious Cultures,

Organizer and Founding Chair, Daughters of the African Atlantic

In addition to the election of mixed-race African and South Asian woman as vice president of the

United States of America, last fall marked the release of a new biennial journal on Black women’s

religious realities entitled Black Women and Religious Cultures!


Black Women and Religious Cultures (BW&RC) is the first academic journal to publish critical

scholarship focused on the intersectional realities of Black women in relation to religions and

spiritualities, locally, nationally, and transnationally. The inaugural issue, released in November 2020,

shares essays from Brazil, the United States, and Nigeria by authors who use diverse methods,

including psychology, cultural studies, film study, legal theory, intersectionality theory, and literary

analysis. Their essays discuss a model of care for Black women’s wellbeing, Black women’s eyes and

hands as sources of Justice in Brazil, religion and representations of Black women in Nollywood films, and Alice Walker’s understanding

of the Grand Mother Spirit in healing from anti-Black violence. BW&RC encourages broad reading of the sites of religion and spirituality, including their relationship to social issues, cultural practices and constructions, politics, law, activism, the arts, education, ritual, gender and gender identities, the environment, and more.


Recognizing the consequential roles Black women worldwide as keepers, catalysts, and leaders of their cultures, communities, and societies, the journal aims to explore the complex, significant meaning of religion and spirituality for Black women of every generation and identity, from every geographic area of Africa and the African Diaspora. The editorial board includes Rose Mary Amenga-Etego, Senior Lecturer at The University of Ghana; Joselina da Silva, Professor at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Debra Majeed, Professor Emerita of Beloit College (Wisconsin, United States of America); Dr. Madipoane Masenya, University of South Africa (Ngwan’a Mphahlele); and Rosetta E. Ross, the journal’s founder, Professor of Religion at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Ericka Dunbar, Louisville Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow manages publicity, and Drew University doctoral candidate Nikki Hoskins is the student editorial assistant. Published by the Manifold Project of the University of Minnesota Press, BW&RC welcomes relevant submissions by and about Black women of any generation and identity, from any geographic area of Africa and the African Diaspora.


Black Women and Religious Cultures affirms use of a wide range of singular and mixed methodologies that provide rigorous analyses, rich theoretical construction, and convincing creative interpretations of Black women and religious cultures. To read the first issue of the journal, join the BW&RC mailing list. Visit this link to view guidelines and submit materials for publication.

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R. Drew Smith, Ph.D. is a professor and Metro-Urban Institute director at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He also co-convenes the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race.

Religious disaffiliation among U.S. urban poor largely ignored


The Pew Research Center released data in 2020 updating shifts in U.S. religious life, including new data on a growing and much-discussed segment of religiously unaffiliated persons. 


The data show that the percentage of U.S. respondents categorized as agnostic, atheistic, or having no particular religious beliefs increased from 17 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2019.


This statistical evidence of an expanded segment of persons not involved in formal religious life is accompanied by data showing persons who identify as Christian dropped from 77 percent to 65 percent during the past ten years. None of this is encouraging news for church leaders hoping to reverse declines in church attendance and membership. Much of the contemporary discussion of the religiously unaffiliated has focused on the two-thirds of those persons who have attended college and the almost three-quarters born since 1965 (meaning Generation X or younger).

What has received very little attention, however, is that approximately one-third of the religiously unaffiliated have not matriculated beyond a high school education and a comparable percentage have household incomes no greater than $30,000.     

The fact that so sizeable a percentage of lower-social-status persons are religiously unaffiliated seems to run counter to widely-held perceptions about heightened religious involvements among the poor. Whether focusing on higher than average religiosity among lower-income nations or among lower status persons within wealthier nations, the poor have been viewed as more customarily religious than persons with greater socio-economic means. 

Therefore, the recent Pew data contributes to an alternate mapping of religious involvements of U.S. low-income populations that challenges presumptions of hyper-religiosity on the part of the poor.

Actually, a cadre of scholars from the late-1800s forward have noted the prevalence of religiously-disillusioned urban-dwellers struggling with harsh urban conditions brought about by industrialization and by an array of social injustices and inequalities. This was true of many low-income workers living on the urban economic margins, including new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe struggling with cultural and economic integration within American cities. Persons of color faced additional impediments in the form of racist policies and practices structured into many urban contexts.  

Historian Samuel Loomis observed in 1887, urban conditions had a hardening effect on lower-status urban dwellers to the extent: “Protestant churches, as a rule, [had] no following among the workingmen.”

While quite true of white industrial workers, there was a closer alignment between African American churches and the socially marginalized black masses who constituted the primary base of these churches from the 1800s through the mid-1900s. As Benjamin Mays and Joseph Nicholson point out in 1933: “It is common knowledge that the Negro church is supported for the most part by domestic workers and by common and semi-skilled laborers.”

This began to shift though by the 1960s, as emerging economic opportunities produced by the Civil Rights Movement contributed to black middle-class growth and to demographic and cultural realignments of black neighborhoods and institutions—including churches. By the 1970s, said sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, within black communities there was “a revolt of the lower strata against the church.”

To the extent social marginalization of persons does indeed diminish their involvement in mainstream institutions, including churches, several indicators make clear that social barriers to engagement across these divides have become greater since the 1960s and 1970s.

The number of persons living below the federal poverty line grew between the years 1970 to 2015 from 7.5 million to 12.5 million in cities, from 5.5 million to 10 million in small metros, and from 6.3 million to 16 million in suburbs. 

Moreover, evidence of growing income and wealth disparities continue to mount. For example, the share of income going to the top 10 percent of U.S. earners rose from 33 percent in 1950 to 43 percent in 2002 and to just over 50 percent in 2012. Broken out by race, black families earned 55 cents for every dollar earned by whites in 1963 and were only slightly better in 2011 earning 66 cents for every dollar earned by whites. The wealth gap is far worse than the income gap, with blacks possessing 6 cents and Latinos 7 cents for every dollar possessed by whites.

Economic inequalities have been accompanied by a growing sense of oppositionality between income groups and an intensifying debate over the economic principles and practices that should guide American society. Operating within these tensions and divides, American church life has tilted often toward the material, ideological, and organizational priorities of persons at the higher ends of the social spectrum.

This has done little to inspire confidence in American church life by savvy urban poor populations already culturally-removed from much of what takes place within churches. 

The social factors that have driven a wedge between congregations and the urban poor are gaining momentum and contributing to a diminishing range of persons upon which U.S. congregations can draw. In contending with that reality, religious disaffection among the urban poor should be no less worrisome to U.S. religious leaders than is the disaffection of their more upwardly mobile counterparts.

Religious leaders have been feverishly strategizing ways to reverse congregational losses among younger upwardly-mobile persons. Equal effort should be put into responding to religious disaffiliation, and disaffection, among the urban poor.

An Interview with Ms. Frenchy Jolene Hodges

Co-founder and Director of Legacy Readers Theatre

Urban Missiology

I am so pleased that we are able to have this interview with you, Ms. Frenchy. A friend gave me a copy of your book for Christmas and I was delighted to read . It is such a good read, and it confirmed what I always believed, and that the intersection of art and social change is very dynamic and provocative. You have mentored many through your theater art and when I came across your poem “And a Decree Went Out”, I was simply delighted. So, again I thank you for granting us this interview. There are three questions that I'd like to have you to share your reflections on, and they are as follows.


What prompted you to write this book? It is very thoughtful, it is meaningful and certainly relevant.



Then along comes coronavirus and quarantine and time, much time to live and be and express my being. So I thought about my halted project. I meditated, prayed and wondered why, since I thought it was such an enriching project, why couldn’t I complete it? This meditation revealed to me that because I did not own the rights to use the pictures, I would need to secure those rights before I could continue. This caused more introspection along these lines: if the poems, memorials, tributes and prayers were as enriching as I believed them to be, could not they exist without the pictures. Yes, they could. But I pictures in my book! And that’s when the clarity of my dilemma led me to know there were other and more creative ways to have pictures without the procurement of the pictures of the persons memorialized. Using clipart, I was able to joyfully complete this book and publish it by Memorial Day.


As the year wore on and the pandemic persisted, I began to occasionally write poems, allegories, stories and rants each of which was motivated by the times in which we were living. I began to stay up later and later and to get up and out of bed later and later. By late August, I was arising at twelve and one o’clock. And I was enjoying it! But I didn’t approve and soon I began meditating on ways to motivate myself to quit the bed sooner than 12 and 1 o’clock! Remembering how much I had enjoyed constructing the book of memorials, I cast about for a book project. I had only written five or six poems—not nearly enough to make a book. Thus, the idea was born to invite people to contribute to a book sharing experiences growing out of the pandemic. The main contributors are members of a group I co-founded here in my hometown, Dublin, GA in 2008: . Several of the twenty-one contributors are friends in faraway places. This book takes its title from a poem included in the book. Thus, .


Can you give us insight into your background, that is how long you have been in the Legacy Readers Theatre;

what is its mission and its purpose?


Ms. Hodges

Every Tuesday, for a number of years, two friends who had relocated to their hometown, Dublin, Georgia, met in collaboration desiring to write a drama that would impart the great lessons learned while experiencing life in other parts of the world.

Both of us wanted to create a drama which would teach life lessons through culture bearing activities. So, one day, one of us suggested that, while waiting for the muse to arrive, why not select and share the sustaining words of our past and present poets/writers/preachers/ leaders/etc. and balance the spoken word with our beautiful classical spirituals and other contemporary music, and further grace the whole presentation with interpretive and liturgical dance. We both agreed to this; thus, in 2008, readers theatre was established in Dublin, Georgia.


Readers Theatre is particularly adaptive for our small town lives and sensibilities in that it can be achieved with talented volunteers who are otherwise too busy or involved for traditional theatre.


In late 2009, we incorporated and are now: LEGACY READERS THEATRE, INC. We believe we are “teaching, through ecstasy, what we know for sure”! Thus, our


What were you doing even before this, and how did you develop your passion for the arts as theater?


It all began in high school when I was cast in the gothic school play: wuthering Heights one year and Jane Eyre another. This sparked-interest carried over through the college years. After college I spent ten years in Detroit where I was introduced to and fell in love with community theatre performing in many memorable plays in the 60s and 70s. Alas, upon moving to Atlanta and as a single mother of twins, my activity in the theatre was severely curtailed with me turning in my last and desired performance as Mama in Spelman’s resurrection of Lorraine Hansberry’s in 1986.

When I retired from Atlanta Public Schools in 2003 and relocated to my home town, Dublin, GA, my interest in theatre was still alive but no community theatre here to speak of and upon meeting and collaborating with my 10-grade classmate, Yvonne Lamb Castillo, who had similar interests, we established the readers theatre in 2008 naming it Legacy Readers Theatre. In the beginning, the participants were exuberant and with our first offering of , 2008, for Black History Month, and they wanted to make it year-round, but that dream died before the year was over. Constraints of time and interest were not consistent, so we early determined we would present once a year. The scripts are poems, speeches, stories, essays, etc. offset with songs and chants, and heightened with liturgical dance all centered on a particular theme usually based, but not always, on the official theme for Black History Month. Some of our themes have been:

Legacy I: – 2008; Legacy II: – 2009 and Our Story, Our Song – each year from 2011 to 2021.


Do you think the arts can be used to encourage social change and transformation?

I like to hear your personal response, but as I read the book, especially your poem

on hair, I could not first stop laughing at your creative insight toward a divine call

for change. How powerful is the truth that you have expressed so well!  Your poem

is timely, very timely as social media is addressing the same issue related to

hairstyles and the workplace.

Ms. Hodges

I believe the arts can be used to encourage social change and transformation through education.

That’s what my classmate and I originally wanted to do through traditionally written and staged

drama. She believed the drama needed to be cloaked in humor and uplift. I thought it could be

well done through introspective scripts and dialogue. She wanted comedy. I wanted serious

drama. We compromised through readers theatre where we address subjects as the best of our

poets, writers, speakers, leaders address  them carefully selecting from their spoken, written and

musical words.


Black History Month is at the forefront of some of our minds. What do you want us to know

about Black History Month, and what had been some of your most meaningful celebrations of it?


In our town, Dublin, GA, for the past 46 years, the Dublin Laurens County Black History Festival Community Committee has planned community events culminating with an annual awards banquet recognizing outstanding citizens. Because of COVID-19, and the protocols attendant to it, this event has been cancelled for 2021. For the past 26 years, this committee has also sponsored one of the biggest MLK, Jr. Day Parades in the nation. Because of COVID-19 the 2021 parade has been cancelled. And yes, the annual MLK, Jr. Day Breakfast has been cancelled for 2021, too.


However, in this—our 14th year addressing our community through a themed spoken word presentation performed by the readers theatre, because of technology, we are being blessed to rise to the occasion to present, via videography and to be broadcast by local tv35, a themed presentation, , performed by the Legacy Readers, reflective of the times in which we live. It will be recorded on Saturday, February 13, 2021 and televised via local channel tv35 and YouTube during the days following. It will feature a very somber memorial for the lives lost because of the virus and culminate with the CALLING OF THE NAMES of persons in our Middle Georgia Community who have succumbed to it.


The last question is a general one:  what is the most important thing you want to share with present

and future social change agents, those involved in any aspect of life and see a need for change?


My encouragement is to meditate on what you bring to the table, then pull up a

chair and seek to know how best you can serve and enjoy doing it as you try to

make a difference. Thank you for your interest in what I do. I hope I have

adequately answered your wonderful and thought-provoking questions.

 Frenchy J. Hodges

January 30,2021

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Ms. Hodges

In March of 2020, when we entered time of quarantine and other measures to help stay safe from COVID-19 infection, it was an unexpected gift. It was a gift in that it arrested and curtailed our movement on planet earth. Faced with this time on my hands, I sought to complete a book project which had stale-mated on me in 2017. That involuntary arrest of movement and involvement in and about my community yielded me a focus of creative attention which in turn yielded a completed and published book by Memorial Day, May 25, 2020!


Entitled, it is a collection of memorials, tributes and prayers written over a span of more than 50-years. The whole book represents an for me in that I made a unique discovery striving to complete the book. Because the major part of this book celebrates and memorializes the lives of people I’ve known or memorials I have been requested to write by family and friends celebrating the lives of people dear to them, I had planned to use pictures from each person’s obituary to accompany his or her memorial. So I did all of the research work, secured pictures for each of the persons memorialized, isolated and scanned them and was ready to set those pictures into the document. And, here, something blocked me. I lost interest. I lost focus. I lost my drive. I did not know why. So the book became a forgotten file in 2017.

Open Book

New Commentary on the Qur'an by an African American Muslim

Post by Imam Michael "Mikal" Saahir

"We have explained in detail in this Qur'an, for the benefit of mankind, every kind of

similitude: but man is, in most things, contentious."

Qur'an 18:54

The 550-page book titled, Commentary (Tafsir) on Qur'an by Imam Warith Deen Mohammed was

published in September of 2020 by WORDS-MAKE-PEOPLE Inc. A team of African American Muslims

from around the United States, under the leadership of Imam Nasir Ahmad of Miami, FL have

compiled this historical collection of tafsirs (Qur'anic commentaries) as given by the late Imam Warith

Deen Mohammed; "Wallace," the son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

Imam W. Deen Mohammed succeeded his father as the Nation of Islam's leader in 1975, and he led the largest indigenous group of Muslim Americans until his passing in September of 2008. Now his students have –compiled from his 30-plus years of commenting on the Qur'an – in this new hard-bound publication.

Many African American Muslims greatly welcome this publication, seeing it as a "return home" to a great legacy stolen from Africans by the evils of American slavery. Often Imam Mohammed quoted the great African American theologian Dr. C. Eric Lincoln who said he believes strongly that there is an Islamic genetic memory in black people. Building upon Dr. Lincoln's beliefs, Imam Warith (Wallace) Mohammed said, "That's why you have an interest in Islam, many of you; not all of you. That's why you are happy when you become Muslim, and you can wait until you learn Islam. You don't mind that inside your body the genes are shouting, 'I'm back again where I was before; in Islam.'"

This publication is historical. The Commentary (Tafsir) on Qur'an by Imam Warith Deen Mohammed is the first Qur'anic publication produced by African American Muslims that is based on the Qur'an itself, specifically for learning the deep insights into the Qur'an. It is a book written for all people of all faith traditions. There is something suitable for everyone in this commentary of selected verses from the Qur'an.

An excerpt of the book, explaining an important portion of the Muslim daily prayer that is recited in Arabic, reads:

Then you say, "As salaamu alainaa was Alaa ibaadullaahi saliheen, Peace be on us because of you and on the righteous servants of G_d". 'Alaina', aren't we the righteous servants of G_d? Why do we say, "Wa Alaa ibaadullaahis saliheen" (and on the righteous servants of G_d)? It is because there are righteous servants out there among the Christians, among the Jews and other people, and we wish them peace, too. Isn't that beautiful? When you truly know what you are practicing, it is salvation. It is beautiful. It is what will make us comfortable with other good people all around the world and make them comfortable with us. If you just take them my commentary, it will open up the world to you. People won't fear you. They will love you.

Imam Warith (Wallace Deen) spent his 33-year leadership uniting and reconciling the human family. His commentary on the Qur'an – while strongly maintaining traditional Islamic values – connects scriptural language from various faiths, namely the scripture of Jews and Christians.

Another excerpt that relates to Chapter 30; verse 30 of the Qur'an reads: It is said that if a Muslim does not believe in Christ Jesus, he is not truly a Muslim. He is ignorant of his own identity because to believe in Jesus Christ is to believe in yourself. It is to believe in

the possibility for your own self if God puts His Spirit and His Word into you. You should be able to become Christ-natured, and we agree with that. But we do not call it Christ nature. We call it fitraa, the original life pattern, and discipline that G_d established in creating human beings for them to evolve into it, to hunger for it, to struggle and work hard for it, until you arrive there.

The Commentary (Tafsir) on Qur'an by Imam Warith Deen Mohammed is available at all the major book outlets and your local masjid (mosque)

Imam Michael “Mikal” Saahir has been the Imam of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center, Indianapolis, Indiana since 1992. In addition to serving the Islamic community, he is an author, activist and retired firefighter. 


Imam Saahir is the author of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad: The Man Behind the Men, 2011, and is a regular contributor to

Muslim Journal, a national Islamic publication. He and his wife Carolyn are members of the Urban Missiology Advisory Board.


Sabrina Ross, Teacher of the Year

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A major influence for Sabrina Ross in becoming a teacher was seeing her mom utilize education as a catalyst for escaping poverty and statistics.

In her Teacher of the Year application, she wrote about living in relative poverty for a significant portion of her childhood. Her mother was a sophomore in college when Sabrina was born and her father was absent from her upbringing.


At her grandparents' insistence that their mom finish college, Ross and her older sister stayed in their care while her mom went back to school. Her mom eventually earned a degree in chemistry and started a career as a chemical research analyst.


By the time Sabrina was a teenager, she was set on becoming an educator. She now teaches special education, self-contained, at Macedonia Middle School. She has taught a total of three years and is wrapping up her first year with Macedonia Middle. She is one of eight semifinalists for Berkeley County School District's Teacher of the Year.

"It is not a thought or opinion; I know from personal experience that education has the power to transform an individual's mind, body, soul and surroundings," she said in her application.

Ross uses innovative means to empower her students. They engage in a weekly "Motiviational Moment" that includes a short video from topics students choose based on challenges they face. They also participate in round table discussions, role play and debate to instill grit. She said her class mimics a democracy that increases accountability and builds confidence through voting on several tasks. 

She is very involved in her community. She serves as sthe assistant director of a women's support group in the Charleston area that assists in fundraising, service projects, facilitating group empowerment sessions, job readiness training and emergency relocation. She serves as a volunteer that helps annually with a group ministry called Feed the Hungry. For the past two years, she has led in the coordination of a volunteer service group that works with Windwood Farms Home for children during the holidays and summer to provide meaningful interaction and support. She also serves as the superintendent of the district's Sunday School Ministry, among other activities.

An Interview with Urban Missiology


Urban Missiology:  What do you do as a mentor and how do you do it?


Ms. Sabrina Ross:  I have had the honor of serving as a mentor within my community for over 15 years to an expanded population of individuals ranging in age and sector. As a mentor, I recognize that facilitation can be executed through countless careers and volunteer positions that one may directly or indirectly act as an experienced advisor and often advocate. As the Assistant Director of a women's support group within Charleston, SC, I advocate through mentoring to women directly in service projects that facilitate group empowerment sessions, job readiness training,and emergency relocation. Mentoring on a civic level includes service in coordinating voter registration sites, informing individuals of their rights, and assisting in ensuring their voice is heard through related activities. I also serve as a mentor and volunteer that helps annually with a group ministry entitled Feed the Hungry, that prepares, serves, and delivers holiday meals to homeless individuals, those within shelters and in need.Concerning children, who are often the heart of my work, over the past two years, I have been allowed to lead a mentoring service group that works with Wind wood Farms Home for Children during the holidays and summer to provide meaningful interaction and support. Within my religious affiliations, I serve as a leader and mentor to my students big and small as the superintendent of our district's Sunday School Ministry by exemplifying transformational leadership qualities, that train and encourage staff to carry out the program missions that contribute to ensuring our children receive innovative and meaningful lessons that enhance their understanding of religious beliefs to foster personal relationships and growth within their knowledge and walk with God.As a Special Education Teacher of Students with Emotional Disabilities, I can both educate and mentor students through innovation. Behavior is emphasized within our classroom to “empower our students for success.” Maintaining a classroom temperature of tolerance is initiated through our Morning Check-In’s, where students and staff form a restorative circle and share recent experiences, mood, and goals. Our weekly “Motivational Moment” includes a short video from topics students chose based on the challenges they face. Students form groups or independently record/illustrate personal hurdles and applicable guidance from the videos. The class engages in round table discussions, role play, and debates to instill GRIT, enabling students to take authority in problem-solving that impacts their lives.As a mentor of students within the classroom, I initially focus on opportunity gaps instead of achievement gaps. Through this practice we build on the strengths of our children, utilize transformational leadership traits of daily self-reflection, identifying challenges, opportunities,and strengths through our intervention room and restorative practices. Our class mimics a democracy that increases accountability, builds confidence, and helps students find their voice through voting on several tasks and utilizes society-centered approaches regularly to better equip them to be productive citizens of tomorrow through delivery that reaches the audible, visual and kinesthetic learners.


Guiding and mentoring in proper communication is done through innovative appeals students model and exercise with classmates to gather support for agendas. Responsibility is inadvertently taught through providing options while examining the pros and cons in efforts to encourage the habit of making sound choices. Although not always the traditional methods of mentoring, these practices enable us to meet our students where they are and ignite every potential they have to be dynamic!


Urban Missiology:  Why do you do it?


Ms. Sabrina Ross:  My mentoring philosophy stems from a belief in extending fair opportunities to all students. I an extremely cognizant of the disparities and unequal playing fields many students face as a result of low socioeconomic status and have personally been caught in the crossfire of the uphill battle as a child. My view on mentoring encompasses various strategies that all yield traits related to differentiated practices in efforts to reach all of my students despite their level of academic performance, capabilities, background, or prior exposure. I am a believer in educating the whole child and stand firm on tailored approaches that allow students to “use what they have” to achieve life goals. I believe in educating the “whole child” and equipping students with the foundational skills needed to build GRIT and resilience that can be used in every aspect of their lives and well into the future.It is not a thought or opinion; I know from personal experience that education,opportunity, and knowledge through many forms have the power to transform an individual's mind, body, soul, and surroundings. Since witnessing its potential as a child, I have desired to be a keeper and harvester of that force through becoming a mentor in the areas of faith,education, emotional stability, and resources. I became a mentor in many aspects to pay forward the same grace and opportunity for transformation to be made available for others,especially those less fortunate who otherwise may not stand a chance in the hard but candid realities of our society. One of the most significant factors that fuel my drive to deliver education on an exceptional level derives from the humble realization that I made it because, at one time,my dream of being an educator had become a long shot.


Urban Missiology:  What have you learned about mentoring that surprised you?


Ms. Sabrina Ross:  One thing I learned early on and continue to see proof of, is the belief that the onus of mentoring and empowering our youth to be successful leaders, citizens, and innovators of tomorrow is not a task for a single population or profession of individuals. The real mission of educating the whole child requires the efforts and compassion of many to include educators, institutions,officials, communities, and families. The key is in the power of the collective group, which is strengthened by individuals that first hold themselves accountable to fulfilling their responsibilities to our children through the exceptional execution of whatever area of growth they are charged. The area of opportunity is bridging together the individual charges to produce a force that is supportive and resourceful to each other and the overall mission through the belief that one person sows and another reaps, yet they all work together to accomplish the full harvest.4. Will you describe an experience within your mentoring program that was most meaningful to you?Last year, we were able to restore 40% of our students who had been within the district's program for several years back to their home school or into regular general education classrooms due to a significant improvement in behavior and academic effort and achievement.Students had to meet the requirements of significantly decreasing physical and verbal aggression toward other students and staff along with the required daily behavior point,participation, and completion. The transformation of these students will remain a priceless experience that I had the pleasure of being a part of along with witnessing and celebrating the small milestones that led to their restoration. As a form of appreciation, several of the parents of the restored students submitted videos and letters personally thanking me for the sacrifice and efforts that helped facilitate their children’s restoration.The experience was most meaningful to me because it reinforced that I can be a part of the positive change that influences their overall behavior and academic performances. I pride myself on being a dedicated mentor and source of empowerment through building meaningful relationships with my students and families, standing with them in facing their weaknesses,while relentlessly helping to harvest their strengths. Some of the most significant mentoring accomplishments and aspirations are realized through the success of my students, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

ITC Board of Trustees Appoints

Matthew Wesley Williams as President


The Board of Trustees of the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) has appointed Matthew Wesley Williams as President. Williams has served as Interim President since July 2019. His appointment will make him ITC’s 11th President, and at 43, the youngest person to lead the institution since its inception in 1958.


Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, stated, “The ITC Board is pleased to have Rev. Matthew Wesley Williams as its new President. His work as Interim President during the past ten months has been stellar. His extensive experience in organizational leadership in theological education brings the skill set needed for the institution and its future vision. We are excited about things to come under his leadership.”

Before his appointment to the ITC, Williams was the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE), a national leadership incubator that cultivates wise, faithful, and courageous leaders who make a difference in the world through the church and academy. He served as a member of the FTE’s senior leadership team and was responsible for managing and overseeing a $7 million annual portfolio of strategic organizational initiatives. During his 15 years with FTE, he helped to transform and guide FTE’s initiatives in recruitment and leadership development for emerging leaders and rising scholars of color who were exploring and pursuing the vocations of pastoral ministry, scholarship, and other forms of leadership.

Prior to FTE, Williams served at the National Black Leadership Initiative on Cancer at Morehouse School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA). He coordinated the research, advocacy, and educational initiatives of sixteen community cancer coalitions in ten states in the American South. Williams stated, “I am grateful to the ITC Board of Trustees for the affirmation and support signified by this appointment. We have made great strides during the first ten months of my time at the ITC. However, the ITC village has much more work to do in pursuit of our calling to cultivate a new generation of prophetic problem solvers. I’m pleased to say that ITC 2.0 is underway!”

ITC is a member institution of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and accredited by The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Frank Yamada, Executive Director, The Association of Theological Schools stated, “This is a great day for the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) and for theological education. Rev. Matthew Wesley Williams is a leader who is called for ‘such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14). He is a proud alumnus of ITC. He knows the institution intimately and cares deeply about its mission and legacy. His work with the Forum for Theological Exploration has created places and spaces in which leaders of color can thrive, and where communities of color can blossom. He is also an exceptional executive leader who can bring about the type of organizational change that leads to transformation. I could not be more pleased with this decision by the ITC Board of Trustees.”

A native of Chicago, IL, Williams earned his Master of Divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center (2004). He also holds two bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Philosophy/Religion from Florida A&M University (1998). He is an ordained ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Education in Ghana:  Special Session

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By Larry Colvin | July 13, 2020

Global Ministries, United Church of Christ

The second semester of the 2019-20 school year began in January as scheduled. In March came the mid-semester term break. Music Department and Pastoral Department students would take a breather while students of the Lay Ministry Department would leave and other lay ministers would arrive. Little were we aware this short break would be extended indefinitely. Covid-19 had reached Ghana. Taking immediate action, the Ghanaian president ordered all schools closed. Students went home and new arrivals did not come. We waited.

On 31 May the president announced a limited and staggered schedule for the re-opening of schools. After careful consideration and following government guidelines, the seminary leadership decided to call together a special session of classes. Classes would be held for only those students who were completing requirements for graduation, originally scheduled for June. In total, 39 music and 8 lay students would be invited to complete their work. As required, the term would be shortened from eight to six weeks. The wearing of masks and social distancing was to be observed. It was not known how many students would be able to attend this special session.

Classes resumed on June 22nd and four of eight lay students were present. (Two more would arrive the following week.) For me, there was a sensation of liberation! At long last, I would be working again. And, although limited, I would again be worshipping, teaching, and just with the students following a long break. Life is returning and we are experiencing it differently. Worship does not have the excitement of the full student body’s voices raised in song. Gone are the wonderful special and extended offerings from the Music Department. Gone too, is the dancing. We sit, distanced from one another. Hymns are sung, with less gusto, through masks, and the voices of the worship leaders are muzzled.

Teaching is frustrating. The mask is hot and that is without all of the hot air coming from me. Given the difference in language, hearing the students is often a difficult task. Now, it is garbled. It is difficult for me to see signs if the students are comprehending what I am sharing, or have questions, or just wish I would move on. I find it interesting how much facial expression is a part of the language. I wonder since the students cannot see my face, do my eyes convey any sense of what I am attempting to convey? Do my eyes express the concern I am attempting to deliver? Can the students tell if I endeavoring to be humorous, or sarcastic, or just making an off-the-cuff comment? Does my voice alone intone my feelings? I don’t always know. Will we be allowed to resume our regular class schedule in September? We don’t know. As the rest of the world, we share life in an age of a pandemic, finding new ways to be together in sharing our celebrations and sorrows and giving thanks for the presence of God With Us.

Larry Colvin serves with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana, and his appointment is made possible by the Disciples Mission Fund -

Hajj 2020: What you need to know about

this year's pilgrimage


It is the first time in Saudi Arabia's nearly 90-year history that foreign visitors have been barred from performing Hajj.

The annual Muslim ritual of Hajj, which usually attracts millions of people from across the Muslim world and beyond, is set to be a low-key event this year as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Saudi Arabia announced earlier this month the pilgrimage would be scaled back and will allow only about 1,000 people residing in the kingdom to perform the Hajj this year. No overseas visitors will be allowed. Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world flock annually to the cities of Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual. Saudi Arabia announced on July 6 it would hold a "very limited" Hajj this year, as the country is still battling the pandemic.

The Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said the decision to curtail the pilgrimage was aimed at preserving global public health because of the risks associated with large gatherings. Who will perform Hajj?

As one of the five key pillars in Islam, Hajj is a requirement for all physically and financially able Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime. This year, the kingdom's Hajj ministry said the ritual would be open only to individuals of various nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia. In a virtual news conference last Tuesday, Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said the government is still in the process of reviewing the number of overall pilgrims allowed, saying there could be "around 1,000, maybe less, maybe a little more". "The number won't be in tens or hundreds of thousands" this year, he added. Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said no one over the age of 65 or with chronic illnesses would be allowed to perform Hajj.

Interreligious Summer School Bossey


26 July - 14 August 2021


Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. Applications for the Interreligious Summer School of the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Institute Bossey are open until 30 November 2020. To learn more, and to apply: Certificate of Advanced Studies in Interreligious Studies.

The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey is the international center for encounter, dialogue, and formation of the World Council of Churches. Founded in 1946, the Institute brings together people from diverse churches, cultures, and backgrounds for ecumenical learning, academic study, and personal exchange.

Each year, the Ecumenical Institute welcomes students and researchers from around the world for periods of residential academic study, specializing in ecumenical theology, missiology, and social ethics. Students benefit from access to the world-class library and facilities. The diverse teaching faculty is made up of staff from diverse theological, cultural, and confessional backgrounds. The Institute and its diplomas are recognized by the University of Geneva.


Intended to contribute to the issues of religious pluralism and intercultural acceptance in a society based on migration and globalization, the CAS in Interreligious Studies aims at an international audience of young people (age between 20 and 35 years) interested and engaged in interreligious dialogue, religious leaders, students, laypersons and professionals with a suitable level of religious literacy and/or experience in the field of interreligious dialogue and engagement, especially among the three Abrahamic religions.

Those who may be admitted as candidates for CAS are people who have a university bachelor's or master's degree, a bachelor or master of a technical college or a qualification deemed equivalent; or who demonstrate a relevant professional experience in the field of Interreligious Studies and who demonstrate a good command of written and spoken English.

More information:

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Ancestral Blessings

In honor of those who have gone before, Urban Missiology offers thanksgiving and libations of gratitude to the great teachers, mentors and spiritual leaders who are no longer with us, but who have shaped so many with their intellect, heart and ferocious spirit for lifelong learning.

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