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.

Does Your Vote Really Matter in Today’s Money Politics?

10/01/2012 § Leave a comment

There’s little wonder that politicians and lawyers are often the butt of jokes.  It’s not a coincidence that obscene amounts of money have done contributed to the perception of greed for both professions–even tainting them to the point where the fallout comes right back to us.  Unnecessary, and even illogical legislation and regulation, pork barrel spending with no public input, malpractice costs ultimately passed on to consumers, frivolous lawsuits–it can go on and on.  All of these issues are the end result of an ever-present abundance of cash.  When it gets to the point where there is so much money within the process, it’s naive and foolish to believe that the people in these systems will make noble self-corrections or fixes.  To be more specific, the amount of money in politics has created a more convoluted process that is fed by an abundance of cash.  It’s not going backwards.  Is today’s political process good for America and for Americans?

It’s hard to imagine how so much money in the election process can be viewed as good if there is a nagging perception that your vote means less than it did at one time in history.  Many people in America had to fight for the right to vote–remember the women’s suffrage movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which closely followed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Today’s vote is supposed to count the same way for each participant in the process as it did 47 years ago, but today’s staggering amount of money that funnels through election campaigns led to numerous instances of voter fraud and manipulation over time.  Money and greed has a negative effect on the moral compass of participants in the political process.  Instead of honest debates and the discussion of ideas, today’s politics are more often about smears and misrepresentations of the opposing candidates–taking the low road instead of the high road–and politicians will do just about anything to win and keep the money flowing in their direction.  It’s easier to beat up the opponent than to make a case for being the better candidate.  To make comments that put down an opposing candidate by stretching the truth is disingenuous if not outright dishonest.  It’s often done today because the practice of mud slinging seems to work best in reaching the least sophisticated voters, who often fail to do their own research when it’s time to pull the voting booth lever.

The saddest commentary of all of this is that it doesn’t have to be this way; however, many Americans suffer from an acute lack of desire to learn more about the candidates, let alone care who is running.  Voter apathy is the greatest enemy of the political process, but some candidates use the malaise of the voting public to their advantage.  The amount of money in politics has pushed many people who started out as faithful public servants into political insiders that respond faithfully to the almighty dollar.  Before you consider how things like pork barrel spending and the amount of money involved in the political process is not all that important, think very carefully about where all of this money is coming from.  If you say it comes from corporations, you haven’t thought long and hard enough.  As a taxpayer (assuming you are paying taxes), are you confident that the federal government is prudent and efficient in how they handle your money (not their money–your money)?

There is one thing that we can hope and pray for about the participants within the political process–to have candidates for office that are sincere and have the foundational moral character that is not easily overcome by the abundance of money.  Here is something else that can be done right now for this and future elections.  Whatever you do this season, take the time to look at the candidates involved and make an intelligent decision for who you believe is the best candidate for leadership–this is the way it should always be when preparing for Election Day.  Don’t waste your God-given right to participate in the process.  Too many people who have come before us fought very hard for the right to vote.  Your freedom to participate in the process should never be compromised with complacency.

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.

Whether We Like It Or Not

04/20/2010 § 1 Comment

On April 13, 2010, President Obama made the following statement at the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. in response to a question as to how the summit would have a role in peace-making efforts in the Middle East:

“It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because, whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another, we get pulled into them.  And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

Not many news outlets reported this statement.  It was blown off to some degree by most of the media.  Thankfully, some of us heard it and were rightfully appalled by what I perceived to be a desire by our president to abdicate the United States’ role as a leader of democracy of the free world.  It came across as if, for whatever reason, it was now a burden for us to remain as a superpower.  If that was not the intent of the message, than what was it?  Whether we like it or not??

Sen. John McCain’s response was given to Fox News, and it was on target.  He commented, “That’s one of the more incredible statements I’ve ever heard a President of the United States make in modern times.  We are the dominant superpower, and we’re the greatest force for good in the history of this country, and I thank God every day that we are a dominant superpower.”

In this very complex world, I would rather be part of a dominant superpower that is fighting for the good and decency of all mankind than to be part of a totalitarian regime that does not allow for freedom of speech or a weak nation that it hopelessly dependent on another country to protect its borders.

Whether we like it or not, we are still one of the world’s superpowers (for now), even while certain freedoms are gradually being eroded as capitalism, as we once knew it, is being undermined by government control and outright takeovers.

Whether we like it or not, we still have the greatest and most dedicated military in the world, of whom I am proud to thank for their longstanding service and dedication to my country.

Whether we like it or not, all of us have the best opportunity to worship God in this nation, even though mentioning Jesus Christ in public may raise some eyebrows.  Thank the Lord for our private schools where we can still pray, at the very least, and learn about Jesus and the Bible there.  Public schools are a mission field unlike any other.

Whether we like it or not, we have the freedom and ability to grow and prosper and raise our families as we see fit.  While most of us believe in responsibility and facing the consequences for our actions, those who choose not to do so are free to go in that direction as long as they do not impact the lives of others.

Whether we like it or not, Israel is still our ally.  I would rather be on the side of Israel than opposing them or being in an outright fight against them.

Whether we like it or not, there are countries throughout the world that still love the United States of America.  There are still countries that believe in the cause of fighting against enemies found in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and in many parts of the world where lawlessness prevails.  The war on terror will likely never end, and we need the support of others to fight and prevail in it.

Whether we like it or not, good will eventually prevail over evil.  Who will fight for the good along with the United States?

Whether we like it or not, there is still a lot of room for improvement on how our nation conducts its business here domestically as well as internationally.  That does not mean that we need to back down on our positions of civil rights and democracy because fighting for civil rights and a democracy is ultimately the right thing to do.  Our imperfections as a country mean that we still have room for improvement and room to get better.  We have work to do here, for sure, but we are not to dumb down overseas over clear issues of right and wrong.

Whether we like it or not, we, as a country, are not to give up what God has enabled us to do in our role as a world superpower.  God does not intend for us to lead with reluctance, hesitance, and regret.

Whether we like it…or not.

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

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