Wednesday, December 09, 2009

United Pastors initiate Community Dialogue for Reconcilation and Unity

About 60 citizens took up the invitation extended by the United Pastors in Mission to attend a community meeting called in the wake of the recent controversy over the tasteless assault upon State Senator Nina Turner in the Call & Post for her alliance with the architects of the successful Issue 6 campaign to change the form of county government.

The tone of yesterday's meeting was restrained for the most part. UPM president C. Jay Matthews, pastor of host church Mt. Sinai Baptist on Woodland Ave., stated at the outset “you can’t have private reconciliation in a public debate” and sought throughout the 90-minute session to focus attention on moving forward with outreach and community engagement. While he had some success in this effort, many in attendance were still preoccupied with the last campaign and the passions it exposed throughout the community regarding change, political power, and economic and social inequalities.

These passions were best put in perspective by the Rev. Tony Minor of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, who first arrived in Cleveland 25 years ago, dispatched here, he said, by Rev. Joseph Lowery of Alabama, to re-establish a local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Minor recalled a conversation with one his parishioners, a single mother who had come to him seeking aid because her cupboard was bare and she was being evicted. In the midst of assisting her, he asked her opinion about the Aunt Jemima depiction of Sen. Turner. As might be assumed, the woman, consumed by hand-to-mouth necessities, was totally unaware of the controversy.

Minor used the vignette to argue that “the town needs to change; the old guard needs to open up and change.”

This theme was echoed by Matthews, who said, “Leadership is not born or made. It has followers.” He said that there was a “process of opportunity”, and that while we certainly had not become a post-racial society, the election of President Obama suggested that there are some new opportunities open to African Americans that should be seized.

Yet and still, there was discussion of issues further polarized by the Call & Post cartoon. Deborah Plummer, chief diversity officer at the Cleveland Clinic, rose to express her appreciation to UPM for standing up on behalf of women. Attorney Michael Nelson argued that the cartoon merely depicted what many, if not most, of Cleveland’s black community were thinking and saying about Sen. Turner, including all … of Cleveland’s black councilmen.

County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, saying that he felt a newfound liberation in his new, charter-mandated lame-duck status, spoke of the importance of participating in the election of new county officials next year. Pointing to his obligation as a countywide official to pay attention to the “aspirations, needs, and desires” of all county residents, he expressed concern whether county council candidates would feel similarly obliged.

The meeting, which began with a presentation on behalf of Christians United for Israel, concluded with a stirring Advent homily from Dr. Marvin McMickle, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church.

In the brief press conference that followed, Rev. Matthews, who during the meeting lifted up the diversity of the black community, was backed by nearly 20 members of UPM as he resisted any line of questioning that sought to exploit fissures in the ongoing relationship of the black clergy and the Call & Post. While that posture may appear ironic, his answer was both adroit and accurate, as UPM’s stated intent is to continue dialogue both with the paper’s leadership as well as with those who are involved in delineating the new county government.

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