Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Pastor tells audience to take the risk

30th January 2012   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, is pastor of the nationally-renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, once pastored by the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell. He is president of the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Old Westbury. Dr. Butts is a founder and current chairman of the Abyssinian Development Corporation a comprehensive community-based organization responsible for over $600 million in housing and commercial development in Harlem. He also participated in establishing the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, a public intermediate and high school there. He is chairman of the National Black Leadership Commission on Aids.

Last week he spoke in Shreveport at the historic Galilee Baptist Church where Pastor E. Edward Jones presides. King actually spoke at Galilee in 1962.

In his address, Butts wasted no time breaking with the trend of avoiding hot issues at King Day events. He said that people must confront the evils of racism and injustice that continue to live today and that the plight of Black people must be addressed directly. He denounced the spread of racial hatred in the media. Butts insisted that President Barack Obama was a victim of this racism. He cited Obama’s economic and military accomplishments and then declared, “They are not against him because of his policies. They’re against him because he is Black!”

Butts went on to tell what King saw when he said he saw the Promised Land. First was the rising tide of color. People of color across the globe gaining power. He reminded the audience that dark skinned people are the majority on earth, not the minority.

He said that King also saw the demand of the poor to not be poor anymore. He endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement and spoke of how across the world the 1% that controls most of the wealth was being challenged by the 99 percent who are in need. He spoke of King’s commitment to fight poverty. Finally he said that King saw the liberation of women, the day that they would be able to rise to their full potential in all areas of life.

Butts challenged the crowd to not “clap tonight and then don’t work tomorrow” and said the work for racial justice must continue throughout the year.

After his presentation Dr. Butts took time to talk to The Louisiana Weekly about King Day and the general direction Black people should be moving in. “We should use every opportunity to reflect on what we are doing today, where we have been and of course, where we are going. I try to tie where we are going to a world perspective, especially as Afrikan people. I am a Pan Africanist,” he said.

Speaking about the direction that King Day celebrations have taken nationally, Dr. Butts said, “I think to cast this celebration as a day of service rather than as a movement for justice is not appropriate. This is about justice. The rising tide of color is definitely a conversation about justice and particularly justice for people of color. Wherever you go in the world today the people who are suffering are people of color and we need to raise that up. There is no question about the demand of the poor not to be poor anymore. These are justice issues.”

Butts says that what his church has accomplished in Harlem can be repeated elsewhere, “I believe that what we are doing in NY can be duplicated in our communities in this nation and abroad to some extent. King gave us a blueprint, so what we’re doing is using the blueprint to build. Anytime you take rundown houses to convert them into affordable housing for people who are working or not working, that’s an implementation of the dream. Anytime you advocate for the year of jubilee, you are implementing the dream. We have two million young men in prison, generally as a result of the war on drugs. We have to advocate for them. We have to get them out. We make no apology about that.”

As a college president, Dr. Butts had this to say about the crisis in education: “There’s no question that education is key. We can point to people who have done great things in education. We lift them up, Marva Collins in Chicago; in New York we have Adelaide Sanford. There are other men and women of Afrikan descent whom we praise, but when you begin to try to formalize what they are doing so that it works for all of our children you get huge resistance. We’ve demonstrated that we know what to do. I’ve started four schools. We have the expertise to get this done, particularly for children of Afrikan descent.”

Asked about his focus on the Black community, Dr. Butts replied, “We must not be ashamed. We are not in a post-racial society. We’ve got to talk about the struggles of Black people. Because Black people represent the conscience of the nation and with it was an Adam Clayton Powell, a Martin Luther King or an El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. Whatever they advocated benefited everybody. So we can’t back up.”

Butts has a theory as to why people fail to address many of the issues he speaks about, “I think it’s the hypnotic nature of our culture. I think we have bought into this culture of materialism. We’re being misled by our media. Too many of our preachers are poorly informed. In fact, the one avenue that we have for disseminating information is the Church and the best teachers could be our preachers but, too many of our preachers are poorly informed themselves. Please understand that all of our great prophets from John to Jesus to Malcolm and Adam Clayton Powell have paid the ultimate price.”

The issue of mass incarceration of Blacks is a particular sore point for Dr. Butts. “We’ve got to get our brothers out of jail,” he said. “I talk about the liberation of women but I’m a strong proponent of family. So how are sisters supposed to build families when the brothers are not here? In the Old Testament there was the year of jubilee. We have to get these brothers out of jail. Some deserve to be there if they have committed certain crimes, but it just makes no sense for all of them to be incarcerated.”

Butts emphasized the importance of business creation. “We’re building schools and we’re creating commercial businesses,” he said. “The small business, whether it’s for Black people or all people, is the business that hires most of the people. You’ve got to encourage entrepreneurship. This is the work that we’re doing. We see community development as one way of realizing the dream.”

Dr. Butts concluded the interview with a challenge to leaders: “We have a Black president of the United States, but he represents America as it IS. That’s not what Dr King was about. For him to stand for what we want America to be, he would have to take the risk of discipleship, which means that maybe he won’t lose his physical life, but he might not get re-elected. When you begin to shake the foundations of the financial structure to make it work for everyone you get resistance. It’s a risky business, but it’s what we must do.”

This article was originally published in the January 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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