The Bill Cosby Event: The Black Church and The Black FamilyPosted in Speeches, The African American Church
” The Black Church and the Black Family”Delivered at The Bill Cosby Event, Wayne County Community College, January 13, 2005
Rev. Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III
To Dr. Bill Cosby, our leader and one who has inspired millions over the years through his outstanding gifts and contributions to education and the family and gathered members of this community. Thank you for this opportunity to be with you this evening to share on this occasion. It is an honor and a great privilege to be in such esteemed company on this day.
Last week the local news carried the story of a twelve year old girl who had met a man in a chat room on an Internet site and decided one day to meet up with him after school. After going to a local movie theater with a friend this past Friday, she had the friend and his father drop her at a Coney Island in Oak Park that evening where she could rendezvous with the stranger.
While waiting for this person, two men showed up. Introducing themselves, they then talked her into traveling with them to another Coney Island on the East side of Detroit. After time there, they talked her into going to one mans home and after time there drove around the east side sight seeing.
She did not come home Friday night. During this whole time her parents were terrified and the church and community were highly concerned. Still no word from her by Saturday afternoon, the parents became even more worried and frustrated.
After mobilizing law enforcement and other resources, the girl was found in a crack house Sunday morning and later rescued by detectives that afternoon who had received information on her whereabouts. The girl was returned safely home on Sunday afternoon much to the relief of her parents, friends, classmates and church family.
This girl is a member of my congregation and could have easily been killed and never heard from again. Nearly 75 percent of young women who meet men on the Internet are never seen or heard from again and this girl could have easily been a casualty statistic.
I know this girl’s family very well and they are good, God fearing Christians.
It is important to note that when I received the call on Saturday that she was missing, I immediately began making phone calls to other church members who contacted the police department, state police and local television stations to institute a plan of action to locate her. This story is one of countless where the black church has served as a resource for aiding black families in crisis by providing them with the necessary resources and support systems that help them in times of crisis. Were it not for the assistance of church members, who prayed for them, gave them practical assistance and guided that family through the haze and confusion of their ordeal, their experience may have much more excruciating.
Friends let me say that the African American Church has always been and still remains one the most important resources in the African American community. It is an extended family. Since the days of slavery, the church has been a bulwark of freedom, a bastion of hope and a mainstay of positive transformation that has empowered black Americans to interpret, confront, overcome and transcend the slings and arrows of their American experience and the troubles and trials of everyday life.
Had it not been for the black church, and the power and legacy of black spirituality and black church leadership, it is questionable whether we would have come this far as a people in America. Were it not for the practice of a practical, African American spirituality which created its own culture and embraced, affirmed and transformed the larger European culture into a palatable, unifying experience, it is questionable where we would be today as a people in this country. Yes, we are not what we ought to be. Yes, we have a long way to go, but the black church has played a vital role in helping us to meet the challenges of living in American society.
It is true that the African American Church has not always stepped up to the plate and at times seems more concerned about matters that don’t ultimately concern us collectively as a people. At times it seems selfish, myopic, and provincial. Some black churches have difficulty moving beyond their narcissistic, navel gazing, prosperity “what’s mine is mine” mentality rather than transform themselves into agencies of caring, compassion, learning and development for our young people, but few institutions have done more to help lead and save us in American society.
The African American church in general has had a history of liberalism and conservatism and has been a voice for liberation and for accommodation for black people in American society. It has fought for Civil, labor and Human rights and has been a citadel of educational advancement, economic development and personal and social empowerment for African American people.
Every major movement for social and political change in the African American history has been either directly or indirectly influenced by the African American church. No other institution in our community wields as much power and influence in shaping the minds, hearts, souls and destiny of black folk as the African American Church.
It has been our seedbed, our flowerbed, our powerhouse and our light house. It has been our social center, our cultural and creative center where the seeds of the gospels, blues and jazz were germinated, cultivated and disseminated; it has been our place of healing, nurturing and sanity. When we didn’t know or could not afford a psychiatrist we could go to the black church and receive a kind of individual and group therapy in worship through shouts and prayers and litanies of praise to help us keep our sanity and release the tension and pain of the storms and stresses of our American experience.
It is has been our peace center, our praise center and our power center. It has been the place that has comforted us when we were sorrowful, confronted us when we were wrong and clarified us when we were confused. It has been our refuge, our hospital and our hospitality center; a place where families shattered and broken could become whole again; where the lost are found and the nobodies in the eyes of the larger society become some bodies in the eyes of God and their peers.
The black church has been a business and organizational center for black enterprise. What other institution in our community corporately models and simulates the structures, processes and enterprises of business like the black church?
It has been a empowerment and healing center for the nurturing and development of black families and a center for the elevation of black pride and black self esteem.
More importantly, with its focus on youth empowerment and development, the black church has played a vital role in nurturing black youths into adulthood and challenging their aspirations to becomes persons of value and infinite worth. It has been a clearinghouse for black talent and has nurtured the gifts and treasures of black youth into stardom and success in other vocations. It has been a place of love, compassion and support for black youths in the development of their talents. In what other venue can you sing off key and still be praised, fall flat on your face and still be encouraged, miss a line of your dialogue and still receive applause? The rest of the world is not so kind.
One of the most important dimensions of the black church has been the ways in which it has instilled within black youth standards of excellence, values that respect the familial order and social order, principles which compel and urge them to make something of themselves and make a positive contribution to their families and to the larger society.
Historically, the black church has helped parents to learn the value and meaning of parenting and it has helped families to know and understand the meaning and importance of family life.
An old preacher told me some years ago, “The most important unit in society is the family. The most important job you will ever have will be that of a parent. There is no other responsibility that is greater, is more important and has implications for society than parenting. You may be a doctor, a lawyer or a custodian, but your job as parent will be equally valuable in the eyes of your child and communities and the society in which you live.
Recent statistics have disclosed that “African American children had a greater chance of growing up with two parents in slavery than they do today.”
The break down of family values, and the attack on the family is one the single most important factors in the disintegration and destruction of the African American community. If the family is still the most important unit in society, then a breakdown in the family and family values is perhaps still the most detrimental force to the dissolution of that society.
For example, just thirty or forty years ago, many African American homes had fathers present. Today more black children are born out of wedlock and most African American homes are headed by mothers who have to play the role of father and mother. They are mothers who often must work to make a living and have limited resources in raising their children. Many of them are strong mothers with deep moral values and are committed to raising their children properly, but many of them are children raising children.
If we were to survey recent history, we would discover that the single most devastating factor undermining our communities has been a breakdown in the family structure; the absence of fathers and the failure of parents to teach and instill in their children the values of self respect, self discipline, respect for others and the value of reaching and working for higher goals in life.
Too many fathers are not only physically absent but emotionally, relationally and psychologically absent from their families and children and this has contributed to the disintegration of our communities.
Now many reasons have been offered why some men are no longer in their homes raising their children. Some cite racism, unequal opportunities, social pressures, unemployment, economic deprivation, drug addiction, crime, infidelity and other reasons. The truth is, while many of these issues may be causal factors, other reasons have to do with failure to learn to take responsibility for themselves and their children. Not having learned what it means to be a man by being responsible, many men have failed to step up to the challenge.
As an extended family, the black church has always served as a kind of surrogate family to others modeling what it means to be a caring family, by instilling values that make for sound and healthy families, by providing educational and spiritual resources and by mentoring and serving families in ways that help them face and overcome the challenges of daily living. Since many of our churches do not have many men in them, many brothers have missed opportunities for learning that can make them better men.
Historically, men in black churches have always been mentors to younger men. Women and mothers of the church have always served as mentors and spiritual guides to the younger boys and girls. The black church has always served as a kind of extended family to other families in black communities and has helped strengthen the bonds and ties of family life in ways that help fathers and mothers fulfill their responsibilities as parents.
Let me now cite briefly some additional roles the African American church has played and can play in helping African American families to become stronger
Every church should have an umbilical relationship with the community it serves. The church should be a life line for the ultimate concerns of families and the community and this is especially true for children and youths.
The church should be a hospitality center for the community it serves. It should have a user friendly, all are welcome, open door policy to the community. By creating this relationship with the community, the church can be poised host their concerns in ways that give new meaning, power and understanding and uplift for the people.
The church should be a resource and referral center, partnering with families, schools and other agencies in the community in the mentoring, nurturing, sustaining and empowering children and youths at all ages, areas and stages of development of their lives.
The church should a spiritual center( not just religious) that teaches and instills in youths Christian values that build character, self esteem, facilitate conflict resolution through training in non violence and instill the spiritual principles of the Christian faith that make for strong individuals, strong families and communities and a strong nation and world.
My wife and I have established the Carlyle Stewart Foundation which mentors and trains youths in leadership development by instilling in them basic spiritual principles, and training in non-violence conflict resolution# which enables them to become strong leaders in their communities.
The church should be an educational center that teaches the basic dynamics of parenting by providing support systems and educational opportunities that will challenge them to grow in the enterprise of parenting.
The church should be a recreational center offering programs of recreational enhancement to get youths and children off the streets. After school recreational and leadership development programs which help them build character through athletics while learning the importance of self respect and respect of others in the community can be developed in churches through recreation programs. A real problem facing us is that many recreational programs have been abolished and youths have no viable, competitive outlet for frustration, anger and energy. Thus they channel those energies into acts of violence and destruction. Every child needs an outlet to sublimate those tensions and anxieties into something creative and positive.
We should have talent forums that nurture and show case the musical, theatrical and literary gifts of young people.
We have supervised, chaperoned dances. Two months ago we had over 500 youths in our facility in an overnight lock in festivity where they danced, ate food, had di about their ultimate concerns and learned something about what it means to be in a supportive community. We would much rather that they party in the church then out in the streets where they can get into deep trouble. They must come to see the church as a life center and not an isolated place that they go to on Sundays.
The church should be a cultural and creative center for the arts. At Hope United Methodist Church we have the Hope Repertory Theater ministry that trains youths and adults in acting and produces plays that enable them to develop their theatrical and acting skills. Our Imani Institute prepares youths for manhood and woman hood and teaches black culture, black history and spirituality.
Finally, the church should be a counseling center that provides a variety of counseling for families in need. If the church does not have these resources it should be ready to refer families who need long and short term counseling and therapy. Feeding the hungry, clothing the unclothed but being a center of caring and learning for adults,youth and children should be the goal of every church and faith community.
Going back to my original story, one of the first things we have done for the family who nearly lost their child this weekend is to provide counseling and therapy so they can properly process what happened to them and to get their lives back on track.
Now that we have relocated this young lady we want to reclaim the family by providing the support services that will help them through the after math of this near tragedy. The wounds are there and the scars remain. The church’s role is vital here.
These are simply a few programs and roles the church can play in the lives of youths and families. The concern of youths and families should be a top priority in our churches. We have lost and are losing thousands of young people to crime, the streets, drug addiction and the break down of the family. The continued disintegration of our families means the continued undermining of our strength as a community. If we turn a deaf ear to our young people we turn a deaf ear to our future.
Dr. William Cosby has spoken the truth to us which is a truth that some of us do not want to hear. But if we are to mature and grow as a people and as a community we must learn to hear, face and own the truth and allow ourselves to become positively transformed by the truth. It is only then that we can face and overcome the perils that plague us as a community. We will never be what we ought to be unless we take hold of satyagraha truth and soul force and use it as a force for our own edification, transformation and liberation. I want thank Dr. Cosby for being one of the few leaders or persons in the national arena who has spoken a truth that we need to hear and own. My prayer is that we will heed it and become better and not bitter as a result of it.
We must therefore leave no stone unturned and no avenue unexplored in reaching our people. The church must be viable, relevant and persistent in our attempts to reach and save our youth If not now when? If not here where? If not us who? Who will go and who will reclaim and rename the many thousands lost and gone who have vanished in the holocaust of destruction now plaguing us? Who will prevent the vast juggernaut of upheaval and dislocation from steam rolling our children’s future.
“Rise up you mighty Church, rise up you mighty parents and do all you can to ensure your children’s future! Rise up you mighty families, rise you mighty extended families, rise up you mighty schools, rise up you mighty temples, mosques and synagogues, rise up mighty community you can accomplish what you will!” The future is ours because our children and families are ours. Don’t give up and don’t give out. Keep living and striving to rebuild our families and children in the enterprise of humanity. Thank you Bill Cosby and thank and God bless you all.