Should the focus of religious bodies be on life after death, on life after birth, on life before birth? On all three?
Furthermore, how is the Black church defined? In addition, what realities – internal and external, social, religious, denominational, etc., militate against communal approaches to addressing challenges facing us? What might possible solutions be, from among ourselves, and from elsewhere to meet challenges like unemployment, chronic to so many among us?
Defining a community as Black is more than challenging. That is, unless it’s description is indirect and negative. For example, in some bedroom communities in Ontario, discussions of possibly building apartments and/or townhouses can be successfully kiboshed by saying, ‘we don’t want Jane-Finch here’.
This is to be compared with other communities that, also well-defined geographically, carry positive brands. In Toronto, there is Little Portugal, Little Italy, Chinatown, Greek Town on the Danforth…
The negative characterizations attributed to Black communities also exist elsewhere. For example, mention of the City of Chicago in the U.S. is oft associated with corrupt politicians, run-down communities, chronic crime and implacable poverty.
These are realities which militate against whole generations of Black people and especially against Black youth. Many of whom internalize these negative sentiments. One consequence of these untoward associations facilitates the ease with which Black youth so frequently harm each other. These actions have as much to do with negative self-images as with engaging in other criminal activities.
By comparison, youth of other communities, equally or even more involved in drug-trafficking, gun-running and other illegalities, do not as readily harm each other, and certainly not over such trivialities as brand shoes. Homicide among Black youth is spawned in their poisonous brew of mutual self-hatreds.
In attempting to find solutions to these challenges, it is also difficult, given several other germane factors. There are, for example, denominational differences between the Black church here and elsewhere. In the U.S., Penn History professor, Barbara Savage, in her book, Your Spirits Walk Beside Us, describes the debates around these challenges: ‘The Black church is more than an ethnic composition. It’s not the preaching or the choir; it’s the commitment to change … that makes a space a Black church.’
Does this description of the Black church among African Americans apply to African Canadians? Our histories though similar nonetheless have significant differences in approaches to solutions. Therefore, given such differences between church bodies, the goals and emphases of one body of churches would also differ from others, with subsequent different programs and practices.
These differences are of significance. They mark the points of departure between those emphases placed for example on life after death as compared with those placed on life after birth … and on life before birth.
It does not mean that these emphases are mutually exclusive, but the differences in budget allocations would be significant between a church whose mission is geared more towards evangelising as compared with one whose mission is geared more towards charitable work. It is more than likely, too, that to both bodies, the work of charity is seen as a cornerstone of the gospel.
Despite these challenges, there is one reality that distinguishes Black churches and its members from other churches. When today, a police officer stops a Black youth in New York, in London or in Toronto, the question of religious beliefs rarely come up. Is the detainee Catholic or Protestant; and if protestant, Pentecostal or Baptist? If not Christian, is he Muslim; and if so, Shia or Sunni? Or if not religious, is he atheist or agnostic?
From the era of slavery to the present, effective responses to these types of ‘special treatment’ have come, for example, during slavery from individuals like Paul Bogle, a deacon among Jamaican Baptists. Later, with the ending of slavery, it was the Black church that organized schools, land banking and the right to vote in America. In Trinidad, during the push for independence, it was Spiritual Baptist preachers like Tubal Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler who effectively opposed Imperial Britain.
I am not a preacher nor the son of preachers and would not think to advise preachers. However, I am a teacher and the son of teachers. Like other teachers, many retired, our interest in advancing our youth is unequivocal.
Today, the Black church still retains the status and resources – material, spiritual, communal and social – to effectively challenge the grievous and destabilizing issue of chronic unemployment and under-employment among Black youth. This saps their hopes, and makes them fatalistic about future life and livelihood. Many with the will to advance are tempted to do so by other means. Yet there are viable options.
The most potent is the economic power of the Black dollar. Stats in Canada lag behind those in the U.S. There, the Black Buying Power, already more than 900 billion dollars in 2010 is projected to reach one trillion by 2015. This is occurring at the same time that Black adult unemployment rates stubbornly remain twice that of Whites; four times that for Black youth: www.blackeconomicdevelopment.com
In short, the economic, political and social health of a people is measured by their ability to ensure that their wealth remains to circulate within their communities.
Solutions are obvious. Some already exist. To further these, support from the Black church is critical. In conjunction with organizations and individuals already skilled in these areas, activate the first weekend in August – the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the British Empire – to further growing Black Entrepreneurship within our communities. We must move from being employees to being employers.
These activities could also cull ideas and expertise from Canadian institutions with mandates to advance communities through what is called Social Entrepreneurship. There are foundations in Ontario and Toronto geared to apply ‘practical, innovative and sustainable approaches to benefit society in general, with an emphasis on those who are marginalized and poor’.
By LENNOX FARRELL