Penn Center: A National Treasure

01/19/2015 § Leave a comment

The Retreat House at Penn Center Photo: Stephen Morton for The New York Times

The Retreat House at Penn Center
Photo: Stephen Morton for The New York Times

If you ever decide to visit the Savannah/Hilton Head area, I highly recommend a visit to Penn Center, a true national treasure with a special place in Black American history that covers 150 years.  It dates back to 1862 when the abolitionist Quakers from Philadelphia established a school on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina, for the purpose of educating recently freed slave children.  Penn School was the first such school established in the United States.  It was a labor of love for Laura Towne, who had studied medicine and education in Philadelphia and had only planned to stay at the school as its instructor for about ten years as a volunteer.  She remained there for thirty-nine years until her death.  The Penn Center museum notes her legacy with her meticulous records of her students and their progress and development with excerpts from her diary.  The school continued into the twentieth century under Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) as an industrial and agricultural high school for black men and women for over 50 years.

The school closed in 1953, but it evolved into an important community center on the island that served the needs of blacks throughout the southern counties of South Carolina.  One of the most important functions of the center was to provide legal assistance for blacks to overcome shady dealings from incoming developers who sought to grab land and property from the native residents.  To this day, the land titles of properties on many of the sea islands may be held by entire families instead of individuals, which can make the determination of property ownership a murky process.  Penn Center helped to resolve these issues and to prevent unscrupulous developers from taking advantage of family property owners.  The center continues to provide programs of education, job training and assistance for black residents today with the help of donations and volunteer efforts.

The other significant role of Penn Center was its role in the Civil Rights movement.  It was a place where Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a significant amount of time on the 50-acre campus as a retreat, and he also used the facilities there for many strategy meetings with fellow members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  A retreat house was also built for King and his wife for lodging and as a meeting place in 1968, but he never was able to use it as he was assassinated that year.  The house sits on a trail on the property facing a waterfront marsh to the west with a breathtaking view.  It just might bring tears to your eyes if you ever have the opportunity to see it for yourself.

It is seldom that you will find a place like Penn Center with its magnitude of significance in American history.  The campus is on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive (SC 45) east of Beaufort, South Carolina off U.S. Highway 21 on Saint Helena Island.

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The Ferguson Decision Goes Deeper Than We Care To Go

11/26/2014 § 1 Comment

The St. Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department, who is Caucasian, for the shooting death of Michael Brown, who was a young African-American, was not surprising to me at all. I’m confident that the rule of law (a term that was used a lot in reviewing this case) was upheld in the review of the evidence. I’m also not surprised by the variety of responses to the decision. Some were in favor of no indictment, while others wanted to see Wilson tried as a criminal. Those that believe an injustice has taken place will take the streets in protest and even overturn cars, burn down buildings, and steal from people who are not even involved in the case or the decision. Of course, the response to the response will largely condemn such behavior, but it does little to address the real issue. If anything, rioting creates a greater divide of the races and establishes imposing boundaries that surround any future dialogue about race.

This is true for evangelicals, as well. Ed Stetzer’s blog post about this issue is absolutely worth reading (I reposted it on my blog) because it does strike at the core of the deep-seated issues of race that go back to the days of slavery and the entrenchment of mistrust between the races throughout American history. Stetzer is right that evangelicals should not jump the gun and merely condemn the violence that comes from this decision. He’s also right that people do need to talk less and listen more to blacks about their own experiences. There is a need for unity within the body of Christ and we are to reach out to others to hear the other side of America from a largely oppressed and misunderstood race.

But once people do these very things, which can and will create greater understanding, what comes next?

These messages are certainly helpful and are meant to be an encouragement to evangelicals and to anyone who wants to gain understanding, but I also think it’s too much to ask people to completely ignore the bad behaviors or foolishness in the aftermath of the grand jury decision that create even more conflict, and yet require someone to have a dialogue about race. The vast majority of people, regardless of race, do not think it is appropriate to trash cars or neighborhoods to get attention. In fact, racial conflicts have often perpetrated the excuse for mobs to steal from others in some sort of Robin Hood-like entitlement. This has nothing to do with race, or even anarchy. This has everything to do with unrighteous justification of a philosophy–it is all about personal sin. Even during the Civil Rights Movement, arguably the most volatile time of unrest within this country, the overall message perpetrated by Martin Luther King and other leaders was non-violent protest, even in the face of the most extreme racial hatred and bigotry. I would not advocate for people to dialogue with those who blatantly sin and use justification for doing so. It won’t work because they won’t listen anyway.  It certainly didn’t work during the Hough riots in Cleveland or the Watts riots in Los Angeles in the Sixties. All it did was irreparably harm innocent people and destroy neighborhoods. Neighborhood rioting didn’t solve any problems about race, and it won’t do it in Ferguson, either. We need to find the right audience for such a dialogue.  That is the challenge for all people in this discussion, and especially for the evangelicals.

Truthfully, we don’t want to talk about sin in this discussion. We won’t even talk about it as we should among ourselves.  We can readily point to others about their behaviors but we fail to acknowledge our own sinful behavior. We certainly won’t see it or bring it up in the media. We barely cover it within the walls of the church. Can we be honest about what creates the racial divide and start with our own sin?  Our own need to be humble before God?  Our own need for repentance?

Has their been injustice perpetrated by whites over blacks throughout history? Absolutely. Has there been white collar crime? Of course. Has there been black-on-black crime? Undoubtedly. Have people been swindled of their life savings?  Have people been treated unfairly and suffered loss?  Life is filled with injustices. God addresses these and all such injustice perpetrated by any man or woman, and it’s all the same to Him–it’s all sinful behavior:

But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.  We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:8-11 HCSB)

And this is the area that needs to be addressed after all of the dialogue takes place–the acknowledgment of sin. As tragic as the Michael Brown case is, Michael Brown was far from innocent. If anyone is being brutally honest about this case, the tragedy is not the perception of injustice from the lack of an indictment. It is the loss of a young man’s life who was clearly not following the Lord.

There is certainly a need for overall sensitivity to what is going on (and not merely brushing this off as not affecting someone who doesn’t live in Missouri), but in my opinion there should be a greater call for moral accountability for everyone involved. This needs to happen with the police, and it also needs to happen with the people they are sworn to protect. The concept of mistrust is well earned on both sides, because crime is rampant and because police have struggled with public anger and even within their own ranks of those who lawlessly exercise too much authority. All of this is rooted in selfishness, which is the foundation for all sinful behavior. Rather than pointing fingers at the races, can someone take a stand for righteousness?  It starts with one person.  Can it begin with you?

The people in Ferguson (or anywhere else) don’t get a pass on this issue if they choose to ignore the truth about Michael Brown’s case. There is seldom a good outcome for a person who willfully commits sin–there will eventually be a consequence. Full blown sin can indeed lead to death (James 1:15).  I believe that once we see people begin the effort to really address these issues personally and within the family unit, which means going back to the basics, we will begin to see a like-minded approach to unity and reconciliation between the races. The evangelicals need to take the lead in these discussions.  Let’s not treat sin as the third rail to avoid in such dialogue. It’s too late for Michael Brown, but it’s not too late for those who humble themselves before Jesus Christ and seek his truth, wisdom and knowledge. We all have a responsibility to seek Christ and children of all races to raise and bring up in the right way under His guidance.

I’m thankful that we have a Savior that gives us everything that we need, including mercy and grace, to forgive me for my sin and to help me when I need it most. That is what everyone needs to talk about. That’s how we need to go deeper than just talking about race.

Ed Stetzer – A Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond?

11/26/2014 § 1 Comment

A repost from Ed Stetzer via Christianity Today, November 24, 2014:

In light of the grand jury decision handed down tonight in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, I think it is of utmost importance that all Christians, but specifically white evangelicals, talk a little less and listen a little more.

Or, put another way, maybe some need to spend less time insisting that African Americans shouldn’t be upset and spend more time asking why some are. Yes, this case reminds us again that the racial divide is clear, as a just released CNN poll demostrated.

I wasn’t in the grand jury room, and I don’t know the evidence, but many godly African American leaders are hurting and they are explaining why.

I think we should listen to them.

Race Remains

The issue of race remains contentious in our nation and in our neighborhoods, and many white evangelicals remain confused as to how they should respond. It is often difficult for those of us on the outside of an issue to fully grasp the complexity and the hurt of those from a different background.

Throughout the course of the events in Ferguson I have tried to seek insight from friends who can speak to this issue in ways I cannot, and have dealt with this struggle in ways that I have not.

A couple of months ago, Lisa Sharon Harper and Leonce Crump shared their thoughts on the death of Michael Brown and the aftermath.

White evangelicals must listen because there is a context to this tragedy, we must listen to feel the pain behind the problem and finally we listen so that we might acknowledge that injustice really exists.

Understand the Context of Tragedy

In “The Lie”, a post by Lisa Sharon Harper, Lisa outlines the important, if seldom acknowledged truth, that racism is still present and deep seated in many within our culture.

She writes:

“The belief that usually resides deep beneath the surface of conscious thought, safe from examination and extrication, but was born in biblical times, solidified in the days of the Enlightenment, and codified into colonial law in 1660 through the racialization of Virginia slave codes. Then 14 years after the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” the lie was embedded in the U.S. legal structure through the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred the rights of citizenship from both free and enslaved black people.

These are the roots of the lie. Here it is—plain and simple: Black people are not fully human. In most crass terms—they are animals.”

Her strong words can either offend you or cause you to consider why she would say such a thing. Part of my hope is that many will ask, “Why are African Americans responding differently than the majority culture?”

That’s listening.

Feel the Pain Behind the Problem

In “Will White People Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice” Pastor Leonce Crump provides some valuable insight that should guide the response of white evangelicals. Beyond the problem of racism, we must see the pain that injustice inflicts.

Leonce shares:

“I am 6’5”. I weigh 270 pounds. I’ve been called imposing. The police have stopped me, both walking and driving, nearly once a year since I was 15 years old. Though I have been asked to leave my vehicle, thrown to the ground and against my vehicle, interrogated, frisked, and cuffed on these occasions, I’ve not been cited. Not once.

Until you feel the humiliation of this moment, particularly as a “decent, civilized, educated black,”—Yes, that’s an actual quote of how someone referred to me once, behind my back of course—then you cannot say that it is an anomaly. You cannot say that someone was “just doing his or her job.”

Listen and Acknowledge that Injustice Exists

Pastor Crump, continues in part two of this post on acknowledging systemic injustice, that white evangelicals need to recognize that a problem does in fact exist and that we must rise to the aid of those in need.

Let’s listen to Leonce again:

“We live in an oppressive system, strategically engineered to subvert the progress of entire people groups and benefit the progress of another. This is the injustice.

We are still reeling from the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and all associated behavior. Before the phrase “Get over it, it’s in the past” begins to form on your lips, consider my position. Consider that every time I look into my father’s eyes and see the pale blue rim around them, set back in his very dark skin, or, when I look at the texture of my mother’s nearly porcelain skin tone, I still see the residue of what I’m supposed to get over.

It is these injustices that will not allow white evangelicals to admit that they have built their lives on the backs of the oppressive systems that their grandfathers constructed.

It is these injustices that would lend their opinion immediately in favor of the officer and against the men whose lives were taken by them.

I am praying that here, now, this mistake will be rectified. I want to believe that you will rise to our aid, and that you would agree that a silent Christian who avoids applying the gospel to issues of injustice—though those issues may be uneasy, unclear or politicized—upholds the very structures that purport and perpetuate injustice.”

This dialogue will continue, and this discussion will go on. Whether you are white or black, Jew or Gentile, the call of the body of Christ is a call to unity, support, comfort and peace.

So, we must acknowledge our faults, confess our sins, repent to those we harm, and seek reconciliation in the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Listen, understand, acknowledge, and come along the side of those who are hurting, bearing their burdens in love.

They will know us by our love. Might we love in such a way that others see the unconditional love of Jesus.

In our system of justice, the law has spoken. Officer Wilson will not be charged by this grand jury, yet I hurt for the family of Michael Brown and for many others hurting in the African American community. And, coming from a family of NYC police and civil servants, I pray for the police there, including Officer Wilson and his family.

There are no winners here.

Now, this moment will pass. This case will fade. Yet, real issues still remain.

Rioting is wrong and stupid—but so is using rioters as an excuse to ignore the hurts of so many.

For many, this is about an incident. Yet, for many African Americans, it’s about a system. It’s worth listening to why people are responding differently to the situation in Ferguson.

That’s what I hope to remind us (including myself) of today.

Memorial Day is More Than Just a Day Off

05/27/2012 § Leave a comment

Memorial Day is more than just a day off.  More than the first unofficial day of summer or the first holiday after New Year’s, it is a day where its meaning is often lost in the midst of picnics and barbecue cookouts.

For many people, especially those who have a connection, past or present, with our US Armed Forces, it is a day mixed with celebration and sobering remembrance.  The day marks a tribute to those persons who gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, for the freedoms that the United States of America stand for.  As for me, while I did not serve in the US Armed Forces, I cannot begin to express my gratitude and appreciation for those who have served, and for the veterans who gave of themselves proudly for our country.

Our country, our flag, our nation, more than anywhere else in the world, represents freedom.  Even as our country groaned through its early growing pains with slavery, the Reconstruction, the Industrial Age and, even more recently, the Civil Rights Movement, there is no other country, as a Black American, where I would rather be.  The United States represents the model of freedom for the entire world.  Our freedom is worth defending and upholding, because there is no better alternative.  We have freedom to speak, freedom to worship, freedom to vote, freedom to protest…all under the umbrella of our rights as Americans. Yes, true freedom has its ups and downs, but it is never to be trumped by arguments or disagreements.  Freedom allows all of us, after all is said and done, to peacefully and respectfully, agree to disagree.  Freedom is not something that is to be taken lightly, or even to be spoken of in a passive voice.   We owe those who represent our country a great debt for protecting these rights.  It was worth fighting for during World War I and World War II, and it still is today, even as we fight the wars on crime and terrorism.

Memorial Day is more than just a day off.  It is a day of appreciation for what we have as Americans, for who we are as Americans, and, for our dedicated soldiers and public servants who defend and protect us.

I pray that you have a safe, peaceful and restful Memorial Day.

Original posting date May 30, 2010 on melvingaines.blogspot.com.

Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com. All rights reserved.

Memorial Day is More Than Just a Day Off

05/29/2010 § 1 Comment

Memorial Day is more than just a day off.  More than the first unofficial day of summer or the first holiday after New Year’s, it is a day where its meaning is often lost in the midst of picnics and barbecue cookouts.

For many people, especially those who have a connection, past or present, with our US Armed Forces, it is a day mixed with celebration and sobering remembrance.  The day marks a tribute to those persons who gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, for the freedoms that the United States of America stand for.  As for me, while I did not serve in the US Armed Forces, I cannot begin to express my gratitude and appreciation for those who have served, and for the veterans who gave of themselves proudly for our country.

Our country, our flag, our nation, more than anywhere else in the world, represents freedom.  Even as our country groaned through its early growing pains with slavery, the Reconstruction, the Industrial Age and, even more recently, the Civil Rights Movement, there is no other country, as a Black American, where I would rather be.  The United States represents the model of freedom for the entire world.  Our freedom is worth defending and upholding, because there is no better alternative.  We have freedom to speak, freedom to worship, freedom to vote, freedom to protest…all under the umbrella of our rights as Americans. Yes, true freedom has its ups and downs, but it is never to be trumped by arguments or disagreements.  Freedom allows all of us, after all is said and done, to peacefully and respectfully, agree to disagree.  Freedom is not something that is to be taken lightly, or even to be spoken of in a passive voice.   We owe those who represent our country a great debt for protecting these rights.  It was worth fighting for during World War I and World War II, and it still is today, even as we fight the wars on crime and terrorism.

Memorial Day is more than just a day off.  It is a day of appreciation for what we have as Americans, for who we are as Americans, and, for our dedicated soldiers and public servants who defend and protect us.

I pray that you have a safe, peaceful and restful Memorial Day.

Copyright © Melvin Gaines. For more content, please see melvingaines.com and melvingaines.blogspot.com. All rights reserved.

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