Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lifting Voices instead of Crushing Spirits

I went to yet another celebratory community event this week and heard yet another singer sing some of the most powerful and symbolic words ever set to music as if they were at a funeral for that Chicago teen who was shot and killed in a random act of violence shortly after performing with her schoolmates at this year’s Presidential inauguration.

The soloist strung the song out so long that I thought maybe she was expecting a whipping from the plantation overseer the moment she finished.

I mean it was so pitiful that I wanted to cry.

Actually, I wanted to cry out in anguish, something like WHO DIED?! Or maybe STOP IN THE NAME OF MERCY BEFORE YOU BREAK MY HEART!!!!!

Believe me, I’m not picking on the singer. She was earnest, and her modest voice would have sufficed had she demonstrated any understanding of the lyric.

But it’s not just her. I have been to countless Cleveland affairs where this most stirring and brilliant anthem in American history is rendered. LIKE. A. DIRGE.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time I can remember when the song was sung with verve, with pride, with robustness! The words themselves have a certain innate majesty, but if the singer tried to be too solemn then his audience, singing along because they knew, understood and loved the words, would pick up the soloist’s cadence and force him to accelerate.

Perhaps how the song is sung these days suggests where too many of us are as black Clevelanders. We sing this beautiful poem as if we are downtrodden, without hope. As if we have traversed a long and stony road, with only bitter food and drink for sustenance, and the road has dead-ended. We can’t remember where we’ve been, we don’t know where we’re going, and we haven’t the slightest confidence that any of our leaders have a clue.

The strange and sad part about this is that the anthem itself is a roadmap. It commands us to be upbeat, to celebrate with confidence, to sing with faith and hope as we march on till victory is won. While the second stanza reminds us how long and difficult the path has been, it reminds us that we have already gotten to where our forbears could only dream of going. And then the third stanza offers up a prayer to the Creator that we stand true to first principles and resist being seduced by the temporal pleasure or the selfish impulse.

I venture to say that 80% of Real Deal readers know that I have been referring herein to Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by James Weldon Johnson more than a century ago and magnificently set to music by his brother J. Rosamund. Many of you refer to it lovingly as the Negro National Anthem.

There was a time when I wouldn’t miss a February church service because we sang it as a congregation every Sunday during Black History Month. [Shout out to the Rev. Dr. F. Allison Phillips!]

I have reprinted the lyric below. Although it is a cultural crime to sing it as if it were a death knell, no such injunction should stop you from reading it with deliberation, pondering the words, and savoring their spirit-filling goodness.

Afterwards you might want to listen to one of the stirring renditions appended here. After listening to these versions I realized that it's not just the funereal pace of so many local renditions, it's most especially the lack of spirit and energy. Keep that in mind if you are ever on a program planning committee, and do whatever you can not to hire an aspiring embalmer as your soloist.

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heav'n ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith

that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope
that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod
felt in the days when hope unborn had died
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our fathers sighed
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come treading a path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out of the gloomy past till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by thy might led us into the light
Keep us forever on the path we pray
lest our feet stray from the places oh God where we met thee
lest our heart drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee
Shadowed beneath thy hand
may we forever stand
true to our God, true to our native land.
James Weldon Johnson

February 1900

Friday, June 14, 2013

Collaboration, Black Male Achievement, and Wind Power

Does Cleveland have a Foundation Center office because it has such an abundance of nonprofit organizations or is its plethora of nonprofits fueled by the existence of its Foundation Center?

Regardless of the answer, there is little doubt that the more savvy and ambitious local nonprofits avail themselves of what the Foundation Center has to offer. Next week that includes two free programs dealing with key elements of today’s nonprofit scene.

On Tuesday, June 18 from 10AM-11:30AM the FC will offer Introduction to Corporate Giving, an introduction to the world of corporate support for nonprofits and funding research tools to help identify corporate prospects.

Following the class, Joseph Cornell from Cleveland Public Library will be on hand to discuss specialized resources available through the library for locating hard-to-find company information.

On Wednesday, June 19 from 1:00PM-3:00PM, the FC offers a class on Understanding Collaboration, dealing with the increasing importance of strategic collaborations, joint programming, and mergers that are becoming more and more essential to helping achieve the mission-critical impact by which nonprofits are increasingly judge.

Afterwards, Susan Neth, executive director of MHS, Inc., will talk about the human aspect of collaboration and how to get all your stakeholders on the same page.   

Both programs will be held in the Stephen A. Minter Conference Center, located in The Hanna Building at Playhouse Square, 1422 Euclid Avenue, 12th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44115. [Foundation Center offices are on the 16th Floor].

To register, visit [Corporate Giving] or [Collaboration] or call 216.861.1933 x325.

Campaign for Black Male Achievement

A few weeks ago the Foundation Center hosted a program on a nationwide initiative that has developed to increase the structural supports and opportunities that black men and boys need to survive in a society where social justice and racial equity seem less real than pie-in-the-sky for so many black males.

The initiative took shape following a 2006 front-page story in the New York Times, headlined “The Plight of Black Men Deepens”, about the steady and precipitous decline in the collective physical, political, educational and economic health of black males relative to their nonblack counterparts.

This Monday, June 17, from 1:00 to 2:30PM, those interested in exploring how this initiative can gain traction locally will be meeting at the Foundation Center’s offices on the sixteenth floor of the Hanna Building. For more information:  216.861.1933 x325 or

Offshore Wind Power in Cleveland?

Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation’s manager of communications and strategy, Eric Ritter, will present "How Do We Build an Offshore Wind POWER Industry?" to members of the Northeast Ohio Group of the Sierra Club next Wednesday, June 19 at 7:30PM. The meeting is open and the public is invited to attend. The meeting will be at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Center, 3450 Lee Road, Shaker Heights, OH 44120.
LEEDCo’s initial project, called Icebreaker, is scheduled for completion in 2017 and will consist of 6 wind turbines in Lake Erie about 7 miles off the coast of Downtown Cleveland. Proponents expect Icebreaker will not only create hundreds of jobs and power thousands of homes, but also be an important first step toward building an entire industry in Northeast Ohio around offshore wind power, creating a local clean and sustainable alternative to coal and natural gas, help reduce air and water pollution in our community, and become a symbol of our region’s leadership on clean energy issues.

Click here to see/print a flyer for the meeting.