Monday, February 21, 2011

A Freedom Church

The first of two conversations about my Forbes Field groundskeeper jacket takes place on the corner of 87th.  It starts with the ’60 World Series and yes, I  can still name the starting lineup and key subs and yes, Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the 9th was one of the definitive moments of my young life. And probably one of the reasons I still believe this project can work. It ends with a conversation of the Negro leagues and how Josh Gibson should have been the first to cross over but for his off field issues. I look across the street and remember the conversation my Homestead Grays cap led to with a man who’s started a travel team of young inner city ball players called the Grays. Wanting to keep the legacy alive.
Coffee with City Councilmember Gale Brewer. Back to the issue of the funds needing to be raised.  The shortness of time. Her promises won the necessary votes for landmarking. We’re still waiting. People growing impatient. We need action to get the boiler going, sustain us through the planning process, build the structure for a sustainable future. She promises to write an e-mail outlining what she can do. Will do. My credibility is on the line here as well.
I open the doors, see a poncho. Expecting the man in the top hat. But it’s George, back again. I say, “George, good to see you. Haven’t seen you in awhile.” He nods. And actually smiles. As I’m sweeping, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou and Rev. Roberts approach. Rev. Sekou has long dreads halfway down his back, Rev. Roberts very short (almost shaved) hair and long earrings. Both dressed very well. We walk up the stairs together.  I introduce them to George. He seems impressed that two people who clearly honor Afro-centric culture are coming into the church.
I give them the whole tour, top to bottom. Rev. Sekou eyes the damage carefully, tests out the Hammond. He wants to see every nook and cranny, including the tiny back yard. I fill them in on the church’s social history as well.
We go next door to Barney Greengrass for breakfast and conversation.  And I have my second Forbes Field conversation. Turns out one of the waiters, David grew up in Pittsburgh and went to the high school where my father was principal. And where he  directed the music for the high school musicals. David, like many  servers,  is also an actor and with my friend Chuck, a cofounder of the 29th Street Rep. We’re trying to get a conversation together as to how they might  use West-Park as a place for theatre. 
I tell the story to Revs. Sekou and Roberts. We talk about Pittsburgh and African-American history. The Negro Leagues. The migration form the South to the steel mills. The Pittsburgh Courier, one of the principle newspaper voices of the African-American community. And of course August Wilson and his definitive ten play cycle on ten decades of African-American history set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. My city, seen through different eyes. Would I go back? He wants to know. I think a moment. No, not now. 
We met through the Living Wage campaign. With roots in Arkansas, he’s been an organizer who’s been a pastor. Rev. Roberts a social worker specializing in pastoral counseling.  Sekou, too, worked in New Orleans, right after the storm.The first place that almost broke him.  The first place he’d been where he felt bringing real change, real organizing was beyond him. We share stories of favorite restaurants, music places. 
But the real conversation is about their vision of a Freedom Church. He has a critique of  IAF organizing as Machiavellian. And not taking fully seriously the inherent intelligence of the cultures of the poor. How organizing and a Freierian approach to education could bring about real change. He talked of the  Highlander Folk School and SNCC and the organizing model that critiqued the SCLC top down approach over against the IAF model. “The one model gets you Rosa Parks,” he says, “the other Barack Obama.”
The  vision, the dream of Rev.s Sekou and Roberts  is to create a church that has at its very roots a commitment to faith based, culture based organizing for social justice along with a deep spirituality. And the need to start that from the bottom up, not into or on top of an existing church. And to start a center where  clergy could come to be  trained in this model.  Could West-Park be the location for this vision? Could it work with/within the Centre vision?
Again, as with El Taller, the shared ideals and values are strong. The clarity  of shared vision is clear. Again, questions of money, resources arise. But the what could be is easy to see. A lingering does the present West-Park become the birthplace of the church that will be? What will it take for the transformation to take place? We agree to talk again.

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