Category Archives: race

International Conference of Christians and Jews Statement on the “Holydays”


22.04.2016  International Conference of Christians and Jews

Dear Members of the ICCJ Family,

As I mentioned in my Easter greetings, this year we have the somewhat unusual situation of the celebration of Passover by our Jewish friends (beginning on April 22) significantly separated from when our Christian friends observe Easter in the both the West (March 27) and the East (May 1).

I thought this separation provided an opportunity to share some distinct thoughts on each of these holydays that are so central in their respective ways for Jews and Christians. Regarding Easter I considered how the Gospel passion narratives are read liturgically during Holy Week (read my reflections on Easter 2016 on ICCJ’s website). Here I’d like to reflect on the impact of Pesach outside the Jewish community.

Preparing for the ICCJ annual conference here in Philadelphia in July has brought to my mind once again the crucial importance of the Exodus story for African American Christians. The sentiment expressed in the Passover Haggadah that “In every generation, each of us should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth from Egypt” was lived out viscerally by Africans enslaved in European colonies in North America and later in the United States. Although they were forced to adopt the Christian faith of their masters, that tradition — deeply rooted in biblical Israel — conveyed the subversive perspective that the God of Israel is a God of freedom: freedom from captivity and freedom from death.

Before and during the American Civil War, Philadelphia had the largest population of “free blacks” in the United States. The whole of Pennsylvania, situated near the boundary between the anti-slavery “Union” and the pro-slavery “Confederacy,” was a major milestone on the “Underground Railroad,” a clandestine network of waystations and secret routes to speed fleeing slaves away from the southern states and into the north.

The Christian hymns composed and sung by African Americans in the context of slavery expressed their hopes and fears for the future. Using somewhat “coded language,” they sang about Moses going down to Pharaoh to demand, “Let my people go!” They sang, “Follow the drinking gourd” (the constellation of the Plough, Big Dipper, or Great Bear) northward across the Jordan Rivers in their path to a land of freedom. They sang “Swing low, sweet chariot” about rescuing angels helping them in their flight to the Promised Land. Of course, they read Israel’s story through Christian lenses and also sang “Precious Lord, take my hand,” closely identifying their own suffering with the suffering of Jesus on the cross (a motif vividly and horribly reprised in the “lynching era” from around 1880-1920).

It is one thing to read about the musical legacy of African slaves and their descendants in the “Negro spirituals.” It’s another to hear it. Click on this link for the pleasure of seeing and hearing the Rev. Velva Maia Thomas speak and sing movingly about this tradition and its coded messages of hope and faith in a two-minute video.

What does this story of the African American spirituals tell us? Among other things, to me it is a reminder that the Passover traditions are a gift of God to the People of Israel, but they are a gift that extends beyond the Jewish community in many, many ways. The annual celebration of the Seder inspires more people than only those sitting around the table in Jewish homes.

And on behalf of the ICCJ Executive Board, the greeting of Chag Pesach Sameach to our Jewish friends this year also conveys gratitude for the faithfulness of Jews in commemorating God’s saving deeds every year in rituals that have blessed the lives and prayers of literally billions of people in far-flung parts of the world.

Philip A. Cunningham

ICCJ President

Civil Rights Leader John Lewis to Keynote Pulitzer Centennial Event Hosted by Poynter Institute


From The Pulitzer Prizes:


“The Voices of Social Justice and Equality” will highlight the achievements of journalists and others who produces Pulitzer Prize-winning work in the service of civil rights, social equality and democracy.

Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a legendary civil rights leader and an organizer of the Selma Bridge March in 1965, will deliver the keynote address at the main Poynter event on Thursday, March 31, at the Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida. Through photography, fine arts, live music and dance performances, the work of civil rights-era Pulitzer winners will be showcased.

The following day, Friday, April 1, 2016, Poynter teachers and invited experts will lead a series of workshops designed to enlighten and inspire the next generation of Pulitzer winners. About 20 former Pulitzer Prize winners will be joining the two-day program.

March 31 – April 1, 2016

Hosted by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies


John Lewis Accepts “Social Justice Award” from Oakwood University Church


John Lewis at Oakwood University Church.

The great John Lewis, civil rights champion and survivor of the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma in 1965 and key figure in the March on Washington;  long-serving Congressman from Georgia and The Justice Factory “Hero of Social Justice,” accepts the “Social Justice Award” from the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Exceptional video of his acceptance speech, provided courtesy of Oakwood University Church.

The Justice Factory The Justice Factory website supports community organizing to promote interfaith reconciliation, peace, and justice


Cross and StarBW

The Justice Factory The Justice Factory website supports community organizing to promote interfaith reconciliation, peace, and justice

An Open Letter from Joe


To: Senator Barack H. Obama, Democrat Candidate for President of the United States

Dear Senator Obama,

I’ve wanted to write to you for some time but I wasn’t sure where to begin. I’ve been procrastinating. But with this financial crisis we’re in and the election just a few weeks away I can see that time is running out. So I’m going to try to put this on paper to you the best way I know how.

Mostly I’ve been really impressed with you. We didn’t know much about you at first, but when you won in Iowa and started travelling around the country and explaining yourself we began to get to know you. You seemed so intelligent and eloquent and compassionate and “together.” Like the top kid in the class. Like someone who could be anything in the world he wanted to be. Even President of the United States.

But I’m still not sure. There’s something about you that seems so, I don’t know, disconnected from us. Like you come from some strange place we’ve never been to. Hawaii. Indonesia. Kansas. Like you were that kid in high school we all looked up to and who was president of our senior class and who went to Boys State and lettered in track and won the science fair. But who lived on the other side of town, and went home right after school and never went out to the movies with us. Who we admired but didn’t really know.

I don’t think it’s because you’re black. In fact, Mr. Poole, my black neighbor down the street, says he thinks you try to act “too white.” It’s just there’s something about you I just don’t “get.”

But we’re in desperate times. John McCain is a sad case. He looks like an old soldier trying to be the last man standing and willing to do anything and say anything to finally make his way home. In a way it’s tragic. Unfortunately, like Willie Nelson said about himself, he looks like he’s finally outlived his own d**k, pardon my French. (I think Senator McCain might get a kick out of that line.) And Sarah Palin? A nice lady but, excuse my frankness, she hasn’t got a clue, God bless her.

Anyway, I’ve taken enough of your time so I need to finish this up. Senator Obama, we’re in a world of hurt out here. It’s been a long time since people felt good about our country and secure about our future. I lived through both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with both of them, but they always made me feel proud and they always gave me hope. It looks like maybe you could be that kind of President. I hope so.

But I just don’t know….


“Joe” is an “American Everyman” character created by Jim Barrens, a freelance writer and veteran community organizer from St. Petersburg, Florida. “An Open Letter from Joe” appears regularly on The Justice Factory blog,

From One Organizer to Another…


An Open Letter to my Brother Organizer, Barack:

Hey Barack,
Does it seem to you that a lot of your supporters are beginning to get crazy? Does it seem to you that a lot of Democrats are freaking out and thinking you are actually going to LOSE?

Maybe they’re just “being Democrats” two months out from the election. Maybe they’re just losing their heads and frantically recalling the ghosts of 2000 and 2004.

Or maybe they’re partly right. You know, brother, it seems to me that maybe you have lost a little bit off your fast ball in the past few weeks. That’s understandable, what with the ridicule we organizers have had to stomach lately from the Brahmanistas.

Maybe you need to revisit “Organizer 101.” Maybe you’ve strayed a little from the tried and true rules you learned in your organizing days.

So from one organizer to another, lemme give you a little campaign advice in “organizer-speak” and remind you of a few organizer rules we both know work:

Rule #1- “Capture the moral high ground”
Don’t attack McCain. Your surrogates can, but not you. You need to be the inspirational leader of the grassroots American movement we all signed up for.

Besides, you attacking McCain won’t work because:
1. You promised us a new kind of candidate and a new kind of campaign,
2. More than 50% of The People have a positive opinion about McCain, so they really don’t like it when you jump him.

That being said, McCain should not go unscathed. In fact, one of your surrogates should immediately begin a constant barrage of speeches featuring these four words: “Keating Five” and “Jack Abramoff.” The People may think they like McCain, but mostly it’s because they forget about the establishment sleezeballs he hangs around with, and that he almost went to jail with.

Rule #2- “Wave the flag”
As organizers we know that the enemy always wants to say we’re really communists or anarchists or America-haters. That’s why we know we have to wave the colors and sing the Star-Spangled Banner at every opportunity. By doing so we demonstrate that we are true patriots, modeled after Jefferson and Paine, Nathan Hale and Paul Revere. Sprinkle in a few Boy Scouts too. But never mention the French Revolution.

Rule #3- “Stay on message”
Have a message that is simple, heart-felt, honest, and repeatable. Remember: “You create your message in order to ‘get a reaction’ from the enemy.” After the enemy reacts you reply with YOUR MESSAGE. NEVER react to THEIR MESSAGE. If you do you have allowed the enemy to set the agenda. You have lost.

STOP MENTIONING SARAH PALIN. That is THEIR MESSAGE. You’re running for President- she’s not. Besides, everybody loves Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) and Gracie Hart (Miss Congeniality), those plucky gals who came out of nowhere to happily beat the snobby establishment-types at their own game. When someone mentions the words “Sarah Palin” you should respond by saying something short and complimentary about her, followed by the words “But I’m Barack Obama and I’m running for President!” (Thank you Michael Douglas.) You then should change the subject to the economy.

Rule #5- Include “The Tirade”
The enemy, and some of The People, talk about you being too “aloof.” Occasionally, someone in your entourage, probably a local citizen or official at a local event, should do “The Tirade”, which we organizers know is a blistering, emotional appeal for justice. It is brutally honest and usually loud. “The Tirade” hits people in the gut and appeals to their sense of justice. It may not be eloquent but it is always REAL.

You should come on right after “The Tirade”. Let you hair down a little. Be emotionally moved and empathetic. This is the time for you to show us that you are exactly the kind of visionary, clear-headed leader we need in these perilous times.

Rule # 6- “Everything grows from the grassroots”
You need to put the face of The People back on the front page of your campaign. Lunchbucket Larry and Susie the Schoolteacher need to be front and center. We need more pictures of them and less pictures of you. By doing this you will energize your local leaders in every state and you will show the rest of the country just how far down the enemy had dragged us.

From now until November 4 you should crisscross the country on “The Journey for American Renewal”. Every day from now to the election you should schedule a press conference at a place like:
A closed factory in Ohio
A street with a row of foreclosed homes
A struggling hospital
Lehman Brothers
Military bases
A school in Appalachia that has no books
The unemployment office
A swearing-in ceremony for new American citizens in New Mexico
A coal mine
New Orleans
Etc., etc., etc.

At each of these events you should have local citizens who are willing to share their stories. Bring Bill Clinton with you to a few of these, and Hillary too. And Bill Richardson. You get the idea, right?

Of course, brother organizer, there are a thousand other rules I could remind you of, but those will do for now. By now I hope I’ve stoked your old organizer fires and you’re ready for victory. Just remember your roots and you’ll do fine.

Call me if I can help. But don’t forget to use the secret password; that way I’ll know it’s really you.

Keep fightin’ the good fight,

When Hell Froze Over…


In his 1989 book, When Hell Froze Over: The Untold Story of Doug Wilder: A Black Politician’s Rise to Power in the South, Dwayne Yancey tells the story of Douglas Wilder’s improbable, upstart, grassroots campaign for Virginia Lieutenant Governor in the 1980’s, which Wilder, astonishingly, won. Wilder became the first black politician elected to statewide office in the South since Reconstruction, and later became the nation’s first elected black governor. His victories in both these races astounded observers, fueled by the phrase “Doug Wilder will win election in Virginia when Hell freezes over”. Well, Hell did, indeed, freeze over.

As the only child of a black US Army officer and a Thai mother, Eldrick Woods began playing golf at the amazing age of two. Having been given the nickname “Tiger” by a Vietnamese friend of his father, Woods is an amalgam of races and nationalities, considering himself to be a “Cablinasian” (Caucasian, Black, American-Indian, and Asian), a term he coined himself. Against considerable odds, and against conventional wisdom and societal norms, Woods combined his unique athletic ability, an unrelenting work ethic, and a mental discipline honed by his practice of Buddhism to rise and become the world’s greatest golfer and an international phenomenon.

Wilder and Woods, for all their personal triumphs, are also symbolically significant for all of us. Their victories rise above racial, historical, social, and economic stereotypes. Their victories challenge powerful and historic institutions that are designed to defeat them, to “keep them in their place”. Like Muhammad Ali, they told us they would win, we didn’t believe them, and they won anyway.

As a proud Irish-American who has dedicated much of his life to the cause of civil rights, I couldn’t help but think of Doug Wilder and Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali this past weekend. Padraig Harrington, the proud, gregarious and steely-eyed Irish Catholic golfer from Ballyroan, son of an Irish police officer, carried the weight of his people and history on his back as he captured the august British Open. I couldn’t help but think, at the moment of Harrington’s victory putt, of the elderly Irish patriot, watching the event on television in a pub, seeing the putt fall and raising his glass to Padraig, while singin’ a rebel song in reply.

As the Masters is to African-Americans and to Tiger Woods, the British Open is to the Irish and Padraig Harrington. The Masters and the British Open– bastions of Old World power and stuffy elitism, emblematic of historic oppression and the oppressors, forced to accept the unacceptable because of their ability and strength. The historic ironies of Woods’ victories in the Masters and Harrington’s victory in The Open edify us all, and affirm the better angels of our nature. They show that, in the best of worlds, right makes might and justice prevails.

Douglas Wilder, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali, Padraig Harrington. I’m damn glad I was there when Hell froze over.