Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thirty -first day of Lent: An evening with Osagyefo Sekou and Cornel West

We spend the day getting ready for tonight’s event with Rev. Sekou and Cornel West.  Finishing the program. Getting food for the reception. Rafael reviewing security plans. (There’s already been one threat.) Waiting for Sekou’s books to arrive. 
I see Rafael outside talking with Anna and her dog. She is apologizing, wanting to resolve old issues. Sees things diferently now, The clinic folk have arrived and will be offering medical services until time for the event. Seats reserved for them up front.
Rev. Sekou arrives and then a litlte while later Cornel West with his bodyguards and they go to the chapel, tonight’s green room. It’s almost time.
We walk out together, I welcome the crowd, talk about the historic legacy of West-Park and the hopes for the Center. And give a shout out to Presbyterian Welcome, our own lgbtq advocacy group.
Then Rev. Sekou takes over. Warms up the crowd by launching into This little light of mine... Tells his story. Talks about where we are now, a dangerous time. Preaches. Talks about the similarities and differences  between the lgbtq struggle and the black struggle. Quotes Bayard Rustin, the out gay man who was Dr. KIng’s primary organizer as to how gays are the new niggers. And then it’s Cornel West’s turn. The passion and power ever present. And then they engage in dialogue with one anoither. 
Many issues are explored.Like:
  • Violence vs. non-violence. Sekou critiques the so-called black bloc who use anarchist rhetoric to justify destructive activity without the historic context or understanding. And that when the police start swinging, its people of color who will get it first. The need to understand the impact of yoru actions on others. And how in the US in 2012, only a non-violent strategy can capture the American imagination. West understood that for King, non-violence was not just a tactic, but a primary commitment. We need a movement, or a segment of the movement ready to make that commitment.
  • The Defense of America Act (so well descibed to me  by George on the steps ) is a terrfiying step in the direction of crypto-fascism. The right to take into custody anyone who might seen to be a security threat. The right of the President to order assassination. It’s little known, little discussed. The corollary laws like the stand your ground act which allowed Trayvon Williams to be murdered by a vigilante in Florida. 
  • The necessity of crtiqing Obama. That he could only be possible by the historic struggle of black folks and needs to be held accountable to that struggle.
  • That the Occupy Movement is like the Good Samaritan, coming to respond to the beaten down, robbed among us, those pushed  to the margins.
  • That neoliberals may be the most dangerous of all because they have allowd the debate to be dragged to the right  and space for debate on any isssue so constricted so as to be almost meaningless. Leading to what West calls moral constipation. 
  • West spices his talk with pop culutre references, clearly loving jazz, the ultimate metaphor for democracy, each voic beig heard, mad improvisation...                                                                                                       
  • As West says, no one should want to be a leader. Leaders get killed, What we should strive to be is a lover, one who loves the people relentlessly. And about joy as both a theological  construct and a spiritual  phenomenon. It’s what keeps us going. And unafraid of death. The gift of the black cultue is to be able to express joy in the midst of suffering, an expression of freedom in opposition to everything that denies it. 
  • As to the vision of the Center, Cornel had this to say:
Aesthetics have substantial political consequences. How one views oneself as beautiful or desirable or not desirable has deep consequences in terms of one’s feelngs of self-worth and one’s capacity to be a political agent.
They take questions on cards from the crowd. New York City’s draconian version of the DAA is the current crisis around stop and frisk....One old lefty rises and launches into a fiery monologue and I get a little nervous, I see Rafael starting to move, but it  all works out ok. When the questions are over, Rafael moves West and Sekou up and out and we go upstairs for the reception time. 
I’m constantly amazed at Cornel West’s human warmth, making every person seem valued, beautiful and important. And I’m especially happy to see him with my son Dan who needed this refresher course to take back to college with him. I see so many different kinds of people. Many friends. Reliigious. cultural, poliitcal folks. It’s been a great primer for  rmy occupy folks. And a revival for us progressive faith community types.
Another night. Rich in being what we are supposed to be. A place of discourse. Exploration, Transformation. 

To see the full gallery of photos from the evening, go to:

To learn more abot Rev. Sekou, go to :

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