Kennington Avenue

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Giving thanks for those who do not confuse greatness with wealth

In the month of February we celebrate the contributions of African-descent people to America. We do so with the awareness that many of the contributions happened in spite of the hardships that often beset them primarily because of the hue of their skin. A couple of years ago I watched the NAACP’s Image Awards. Two giants took the stage one was the presenter, Sidney Poitier and the other was the recipient of the Spingarn Medal of Achievement, Harry Bellafonte who was recognized not just for his craft and artistry but for his undying commitment to human and civil rights. In his speech he would call attention to the violence that happens nightly in communities of color all across urban America. “If we are honest,” he would say, “We have to acknowledge that the violence that happens in our streets is rich with the blood of our children and our leaders for the most part are mute.” Mr. Bellafonte was a radical warrior in the fight for racial justice and he continues to be that warrior. Today we need radical voices not bound by the etiquette of institutional or political niceness. We need entertainers today to follow the examples of Harry Bellafonte, Eartha Kitt, and Sidney Poitier. Freedom does not come because we simply desire it. It comes because courageous men and women demand it, push for it, fight nobly for it. They recognize that the cost of such freedom is high but they have decided that record sales or movie sales or super stardom is less important than the fight for human dignity. The cost of that dignity comes with a price but it is a cost that they were willing to pay. I find it rather sad that so many of our entertainers are so silent in the face of the glaring injustices that are just as real now as they were 40-50-60 years ago. It seems that they have forgotten that the successes that they enjoy today and the great wealth that now comes their way is due to the steadfastness of men and women who came before them. Their sacrifices, their unwillingness to bend or give in to those who would stand in the way of what they knew to be God given rights. In so many ways we are living in a nightmare today that is far greater in some respects than the darkness of the racial hostilities and barriers of the past. More men in our communities are in prison, more people in our community are in poverty, the rate of our children dying in infancy is comparable to some third world countries. The dream that Dr. King articulated in 1963 never materialized for a huge population of African-Americans. And we are more fragmented now than we were in the 1960’s and because we are we are much less organized. And for

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About the author

Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. For 18 years he was as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.