An Open Letter to Black Clergy
By Marlon Aldridge, Sr.
August 10, 2014
In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. made these remarks at a convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
One day, one night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what you shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, ‘Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying.’ He didn't say, ‘Nicodemus, now you must not commit adultery.’ He didn't say, ‘Now Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that.’ He didn't say, ‘Nicodemus, you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively.’ He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic: that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down on one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, ‘Nicodemus, you must be born again.’ In other words, ‘Your whole structure [emphasis added] must be changed.’
A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. What I'm saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!" (Martin Luther King, Jr., August, 1967. Taken from a speech before the SCLC, titled Where Do We Go from Here?)
I am writing you today to encourage your support in the upliftment of the Black community. I anticipate that some of you want nothing to do with anything “black”*. I pause now for a minute to answer the question: Why the Black community and not the whole community? First, the Black community is the community to which you have direct access and potentially the most influence. I remind you that most of your congregations are Black despite many of your efforts to integrate. Secondly, without providing any statistics, I remind you that Blacks are lagging behind other American racial and ethnic groups in many meaningful social measurements like employment, educational attainment, morbidity, income and wealth, etc. Thirdly, if advancement really means anything to you, then you should focus your attention on the weakest link. That’s the Black community. I provide a few examples, rationale, and conclude with some recommendations for Black clergy to move us forward.
Examples and Rationale
Imagine a race where two runners are competing against one another. The one who has a better training regimen and diet (e.g., a better system) is allowed a head start over the other. Will the one starting behind ever catch up if all other things are equal? No. What if both runners have an equal chance of winning the race, but one is allowed a head start over the other. Likewise, it is likely that the one given a head start will win the race although the other had an equal chance of winning. In either case, the disadvantaged runner must do something extraordinary to win.
Collectively, Blacks are disadvantaged runners and if winning or being highly competitive matters to you, then you can help to provide them with the winning advantage.
Here is a scriptural story that I think illustrates my point about the consequences of not being competitive:
14 For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 25:14-30).
If we were to envision each man as a community, which man would represent the Black community? If equality is what we seek in this country, then competition is the means to it.
Since I am talking about our community as a whole and not about individual effort, I need to contrast the individual from our community, both in relation to the environment. In accord with Martin Luther King, Jr., I refer here more specifically to the “structures” (e.g., family, institutions, organizations, communities, political entities, etc.) within the environment “which must be reborn” and do not “get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what [individuals should or] shouldn't do.” In other words, I focus here on providing solutions which help our institutions (ecumenical organizations in particular) better support their communities than on individuals directly.
The individual and the community to which he or she is a part share common characteristics such as (1) self-sufficiency, (2) organization, (3) energy usage, (4) adaptation [in part thru competition], and (5) defense to name a few.
Each individual and community is self-sufficient only to the extent that each has access and rights to life-sustaining resources. We must control access and rights to life-sustaining resources.
To the degree that individuals and communities are organized is to the degree that each enjoys comfort and prosperity. Advanced societies or civilizations are measured by their degree of organization. Our institutions must become better organized relative to institutions in general.
By energy use, I am talking more than about consuming food and fuel. I am talking about power or the ability to get things done such as economic and community development, educational advancement, and other forms of cultural and social advancement. Our institutions must exert more power.
Adaptation and Defense
All living organisms (which include individuals, families, institutions, organizations, political entities, etc.) adapt to their environments. Those that do not, die! Adaptation is the process of better organizing our internal and external conditions so that we may survive. Therefore, responding to competition is adapting to it. So, if competition is the mother of invention, then we need to run to, not from it. Our institutions must compete at a higher level.
Again, competition is the key to equality.
Moreover, we must defend our institutions. It’s a matter of survival. Period!
Lastly, here’s a major difference between the individual and our community as a whole. The individual eventually dies while the community (e.g., structures) may live in perpetuity. They perish only when they cannot adapt to changes in the environment.
One mindset among many Black clergy that is disturbing to me is waiting for the “powers that be” to live up to their so-called religious values or principles. Some call it the “politics of conversion”. Others imagine a nonracial fantasy world where we simply love each other as brothers and sisters. I would not expect men and women of your stature to be “waiting” on other people outside of your community to provide it with supports equal to its own. Nor would I expect you to be waiting on a fantasy which may never come.
In conclusion, you (Black clergy) are the vanguard of our second greatest institution, which is the family. It is under constant attack; therefore, you are under constant attack as well. Will you support and protect the family and other institutions like yourself or will you and they wither and die?
Here are a few of my recommendations to support social change in your communities.
1. Refocus the media narrative about our communities to its intended focus whenever it’s manipulated. For example, the media reported the 1963 “March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs” as the “I Have a Dream” speech. A march and a speech signal two different thoughts while freedom and jobs are totally different than one person’s dream. Thought (e.g., a cognitive process) is a primary function whereby attitudes, values, and behavior are developed. Entertainment outlets and personalities must also be held accountable for the attitudes, values, and behaviors that they project onto the Black community especially on our children. Never let our thoughts or actions be redirected by those who deliberately seek to maintain power over us or by unconscious accomplices.
2. Identify and openly support one or more local, Black-run nonprofit organizations who provide a valuable service and whose predominate focus is the Black community. Routinely speak about them to your congregations and solicit financial, material, and volunteer support for them. Warning: Do not be discouraged by what you see. Our (Black) institutions have simply not supported them.
3. Establish a covenant to buy from black-owned businesses and develop a process such as a web page or application to collect vendor information. The most committed organizations will annually report their spending with black-owned businesses to the public. Moreover, openly support one or more local, Black-run trade associations whose predominate members are Black. Give more preference to businesses which have employees.
4. Monitor the activities of elected politicians who have requested your support. This is best done by ecumenical groups to which you belong. One method for doing this may be to request that they routinely report to you their activities such as votes on ordinances, budgets items, affirmative action goals and policies, etc. Establish an annual report card for each one giving additional points to those who have directed programs and resources to your communities.
5. Establish and/or support programs for mothers and fathers with children between the ages of birth to six years old. Focus on prenatal care, nutrition, childcare, transportation, literacy, etc. Tip: Establish strategic alliances (such as co-branded, joint venture, or partnership arrangements) with other organizations to provide licensed or certified childcare, nutrition, or after-school centers. These programs are normally administered and supported by state agencies. Tithes and offers provide working capital for these programs, which may be reimbursed by the state.
6. Establish and/or support programs for early childhood teachers (e.g., grades preK-3). Provide supplies, tutors, volunteers, and enrichment activities. Support teachers in middle schools and high schools as well.
Your Faithful Brother and Servant,
Marlon Aldridge, Sr.
Black Man's Think Tank
*P.S. I once had a Black preacher tell me that he wanted nothing to do with anything black. I was shocked.
About Marlon Aldridge, Sr.
Marlon Aldridge, Sr., is the founding president and CEO of the Black Man’s Think Tank (www.bmtt.org), a physics professor, and entrepreneur. He brings his love for knowledge and his passion for constructive critique to bear on problems which affect Black people locally, nationally, and abroad. In his work with the “tank”, he works with others to plan and develop processes and systems which lead to greater organization and competitiveness within Black society. He may be reached at (937) 732-5316 or by email at [email protected]