Voices We Need to Hear: Alex Gee, Senior Pastor of Fountain of Life Church

Posted: November 24, 2009 in Social Justice, Uncategorized, urban ministry
Tags: , , ,

My good friend, Rev. Dr. Alex Gee is the Senior Pastor of Fountain of Life Church in Madison, WI (Dane County).  Alex and I met when we both were plenary speakers at Urbana ’03.  Pastor of a dynamic multi-ethnic church, Alex brings a pastor’s heart and a prophetic voice.

Dane County is an amazing community for African American babies to be born into.  It is a horrible community in which to live if you are an adult African American male.  As an African American who is both a male and a father, I find this stark contrast appalling.

Recently, I was at a Healthy Births Outcome event. We gathered that morning to discuss the fact that Dane County has the absolute best African American infant survival rate in the entire country. In fact, we are the only community in the nation where white and African American infants have the same survival rate.  As the father of child who was a one-pound, eight-ounce baby who was born sixteen weeks too early, I am grateful to live in Madison, Wisconsin.  So the news is good for African American babies. It is not so good for African American adults.

A colleague just showed me a report that states that in Dane County, fifty percent of ALL young African American men are either in prison, on probation or parole, or on extended supervision. That’s one half of ALL our young African American men. What are the implications for African American families? What does this mean for African American women? What does this mean for African American economics? This is scary and this is wrong! Wisconsin needs to be challenged in the way in which our prison system does business.

For example, nearly fifty percent of Wisconsin’s prison population is African American. This is appalling when one considers that African Americans make up only five percent of the state’s population. If you are male and African American in Wisconsin you are thirty times more likely be arrested of drug offenses that your white counterparts.  Our Gov. Jim Doyle and County Executive Kathleen Falk each established a task force to review the racial disparity in the Wisconsin and Dane County criminal justice systems. We need more than startling statistics. We need answers as to how this could happen in our state and we need to find solutions.

Unfortunately, racial profiling contributes to Wisconsin’s bleak reputations for treating its African American males more severely. Sadly, I know that from firsthand experience.  as I was recently pulled over by two Madison police cars in the parking lot of Fountain of Life Church, a well established multiethnic congregation where I am the founding senior pastor. I had not violated a single traffic rule, yet I was asked to show identification and to explain what I was doing there. My white staff member who was parked in the same lot and sitting in his car when I arrived was not asked a single question.  Is this some cruel joke? Is this really happening in my comfortable backyard while I snooze? African American males are not genetically inferior to our white counterparts nor are we predisposed to failure and criminal activity.  So, what is wrong with our corrections systems and why have so many of us just ignored this huge problem?

As a male African American Madisonian, I want to issue a call beyond the various task forces that now exist. I want to invite the entire community to become concerned and involved.  I want to encourage African American pastors to make their voices and concerns known.  I want to invite white clergy to address issues of racial disparity and discrimination from their pulpits.  I want the Urban League and NAACP to keep our political leaders’ feet to the fire for finding doable solutions for eradicating this awful disparity.

How can we celebrate healthy African American babies and not give a damn about their fathers and brothers and uncles?

Dane County leads the way for healthy African American babies; let’s do the same for African American males.

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Comments
  1. Melody Hanson says:

    Pastor Gee, It is so good to hear your voice here. I’ve read the reports and stats and I’m equally appalled. Saddened. I always look at the person when I see someone pulled over in Madison and 90% of the time it is a person of color. That’s just my little sampling, on the near west side, but still it makes me angry.

    What can I do as a white, (upper) middle-class person in Madison? I want to help.

    P.S. What’s the ethnic breakdown of Fountain of Life?

    • Alex Gee says:

      Melody:

      Thanks for your post. This is a huge issue that has somehow missed everyone’s radar screen.

      How can you help? Great question. I feel that White believers can help by having discussions with key White Christian pastors/leaders and ask them what they feel would be an appropriate congregational response to these issues. These pastors need to challenged on their major commitment to overseas missions and very little commitment to the local Madison community. My experience is that White churches in our community are ofen silent and invisible on these issus. This is an opportunity for the Madison Church to step up to the plate in a big way.

      Thanks again for your encouraging note.

      Alex

  2. jimmy says:

    Great Article. As person born in Milwaukee, and later returned to attend college, I am terribly upset over this data. I have learned a few years ago, that Wisconsin is 50th in the nation in graduating Black males, but FIRST in incarcerating them. To address this awful disparity, it will take all hands on deck, before any change can happen. It starts but doesn’t end with prayer!

  3. profrah says:

    Pastor Gee,

    Thanks for your challenge. An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. I think we often live life in levels of comfort and complacency that continues to allow injustice to not only exist, but flourish. Thanks for being a prophetic voice.

  4. Karen says:

    One of the most important things anyone can do, but especially white-upper/middle class people, is start talking about the issue at hand! It’s so easy to grow up in white middle-class America and truly believe that racism died with Martin and Malcolm. Many white upper/middle class people are raised to believe that we should be color-blind, and if we notice any differences between the races, that makes us racist. Even if we are one of the few that manages to recognize problems like those addressed in this post, we still remain silent because we are not sure how to talk about it.

    We need to raise awareness in our communities about these simple and alarming statistics. Once we manage to open some eyes, there are so many ways to help by getting involved with and donating to organizations that promote social justice.

  5. Let the churches step up and be the church in lost communities. Its time like never before for us as leaders to man or roles and take heart and move the people into battle position. Speak up for justice!!

  6. Alex Gee says:

    For years I was guilty of thinking that prisons were only filled with people who’ve commit crimes. Whereas that is true to an extent, prisons are also filled with people who have not been rehabilitated and return to jail (at a nearly 70% rate in Wisconsin) because they still have drug issues and in many cases, mental health issues—all of which can lead to unemployment and homelessness. Many of those in Wisconsin’s prisons are not necessarily new cases…they are often men who may have minor parole violations i.e. purchasing a car with a parole officer’s consent.

    Why are WI taxpayers paying nearly $30K a year to incarcerate men and not rehabilitate them and return them to society as contributing members of the community?

  7. danderson says:

    Alex,
    I teach at a school just down the road from your Church. Many years ago I volunteered with the ACE program, when Sister Fabu was the director.

    As a teacher at a high-poverty, high-minority school, I struggle to find the balance between my concern for especially the African-Americans, and the anger at what has caused they and their families to be so “broken.” (As a Spanish-speaker, I’ve primarily taught Latinos and other ESL students until the past two years). Of the 12 or so African-American students I’ve had in the classroom over the past two years, none has come from a two-parent family. They bring a lot of anger and other negative emotions into the classroom. When I find out about some of the family histories, I’m get quite upset. I do not know if the majority of their birth fathers are in prison or not; I do know that some have taken other wives and started other families.

    I know that racism and profiling continue to be an important issue to confront, whether in so-called “progressive” Madison or the deep South. But I’m also concerned about the lack of importance our society — White, Black or Brown — has placed on the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. I know your Nehemiah Development Corp. works with men — and women — of all ages to strengthen them socially, emotionally and spiritually. From all my verbiage here, I’ m wondering as a White person how to confront the problems with an agape love.

    • Alex Gee says:

      Danderson,

      Thanks for your input. As a White person and teacher you cannot confront issues of a lack of strong marriage with your students. You can, however, do your best to be role model to your young students and help him/her have the tools they need to be succesful students. As a student of a single parent (my parents divorced when I was young), I didn’t need lessons about marriage from my teachers…I needed them to push me to get into college and to believe I could succeed.

      Please not that until the laste 60’s, White families led African American families in broken families. We didn’t pity or lower the academic standards for Whites from homes and we cannot do it for African American students either (I know that you aren’t suggesting that). This incredible incline in fatherlessness in the African American community is a newer phenomenom for us, believe it or not.

  8. […] week someone, a member of this congregation, sent me an email that included a blog post written by the pastor of a church here in Dane County.  In this post he talks about a recent study that states “that in Dane County, fifty percent of […]

  9. Don Scales says:

    Pastor Gee, I was just googling you and I can across this Blog. My then wife (I am divorced now) visited your church and I had a school project ( Madison Media Institute) and visited again with a school mate. I find you to be such a down to earth person, easy to talk to. Most people in your position would wait for someone to come to them but I was at your church picnic one day and you came to me and my wife and started a conversation. I agree with you on the racism in Madison, WI. I moved there to be close to the University Hospital, and I could not find a job and to move back to Illinois. Something needs to be done Madison is a great city, beautiful scenic areas, but needs to realize that not all African American are into drugs and crime.

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