Posts Tagged ‘urban ministry’

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.

Over the summer, both our cars were stolen from right in front of our house. First our Scion xB was stolen. Great little car. Gets great mileage. It was stolen on the first day of my summer intensive class and I ended up getting to my own class very late. We ended up finding the car parked a few blocks away from our home. Since we had already filed a police report, I had to wait by my car for the police to come and release my own car back to me.

If you have ever had a car stolen or your home burglarized, you are familiar with the sinking feeling you get when you realize that something has been stolen. It is not merely the sense of losing property, but more the deep sense of being violated. Someone has invaded your personal space and property. We were, however, very thankful that we got our car back without any major damage to our Scion.

So I went and got Clubs for both our cars, changed the locks on our house and added an alarm system for the house (ridiculously overpriced for what you’re getting and they don’t fulfill their incentive offer. Never trust ADT, but that’s another blog entry). The need for the home security came from my wife’s bike being stolen from our backyard about a week after the car was stolen. The second year in a row we have had a bike stolen in Chicago on Father’s Day.

About a week and a half later, I’m at a conference in California when my wife texts me that our minivan has been stolen. Again, our car was directly in front of our house. I rush home (paying exorbitant fees to change my flight by one lousy day). The car was recovered with some minor interior damage. So now, our family is on edge. We have had two cars stolen as well as a bike – our sense of security was shattered. We became a bit more suspicious of our neighbors and began to discuss what it meant for us to live in an urban context. Other questions came up as well. Why do we pay such high taxes and get ridiculously inferior public education? Why is there only one beat cop for an area covering about one square mile? We began to cast suspicious glances at the youth in our neighborhood. We were facing the reality of life in the city.

A few weeks later, I found myself in an inner city church on the West Side of Chicago. This was really da hood. Not the urban oasis that my family lives in. Sure, we live in the city, but despite the rash of thefts we still live in a fairly safe part of the city. The church had just wrapped up their worship time and opened up the floor for prayer requests from the congregation. I seriously considered asking prayer for my family as we were worried about having our two cars and a bike stolen from our house.

The first person to share was a fortyish woman who asked prayers for the children of her community as they returned to school. She talked about how this past year, in her neighborhood, they had seen a high number of youth who had been shot and killed. Another parent stood up and asked prayers for his neighbor who had lost a teenage son to a shooting during the summer. Person after person stood up to ask prayers for family members lost to violence and testified to violence that occurred right in front of their home. This is real life in the city. There is nothing romantic or exotic about it. It’s just real life. In my self-absorbed concern over an inconvenience, I forgot that there is genuine pain and suffering in the real life of the city.  I join with the prayers of many families and individuals who seek the peace of the city.

To learn more about efforts to bring peace to our city, see: Chicago Peace Campaign