Common sense brings a 'spiritual awakening'

November 23, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

Last summer, gang leaders attending a series of summit conferences in major cities across the country announced with great fanfare that they would try to stop slaughtering each other.

"We have got to find some way to stop the violence," said a member of the Bloods, a Los Angeles street gang that has been at war with a gang called the Crips. "The violence is tearing the community apart."

Civic leaders applauded this "urban peace movement." Police were skeptical.

Me? I found the gang leaders disgusting.

Why did it take so long for those yo-yos to figure out that their violence was "tearing the community apart?" Were they blind? Or just terminally stupid?

Why was it so hard to get young men to stop their wanton acts of self-destruction, if indeed they have stopped?

I had a similar reaction in September when the executive director of the NAACP, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, the leader of the Nation of Islam and Jesse Jackson also pledged to stop their in-fighting and work together.

"No longer will we allow people to divide us," said Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Again, I found it hard to join the applause.

Why did this rapprochement take so long? Couldn't those black leaders see that their eternal bickering was destroying the community just as surely as if they used bullets?

Couldn't they understand that it was the internal warfare between leaders, more than anything else, that fragmented the civil rights movement in the 1970s and brought the movement's forward momentum screeching to a halt?

Were we supposed to stamp our feet and clap our hands because black leaders have discovered what should have been obvious to them all along -- that they have more in common with each other than not?

Unity was one of the sub-themes Sunday, when the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, executive director of the NAACP, and Minister Louis Farrakhan, spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam, preached from the pulpit at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore.

It was an evening in which African Americans were urged to rediscover their common roots while learning to respect their differences.

"We are a broken community, a broken people," Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Frank M. Reid, had told me a few days earlier. He was explaining why he invited the head of the Nation of Islam to preach at an African Methodist Church.

"We have got to learn to work together again, in spite of our differences," said Mr. Reid. "There are common areas of agreement: The violence must stop. The drug abuse must stop. The sexual and physical abuse, the misogyny, must stop."

"Christians have to work together with Muslims," continued Mr. Reid. "Pentecostals have to communicate with African Methodists. Church leaders of all faiths have to communicate with the gang leaders. The gang leaders have to communicate with each other."

Mr. Farrakhan delivered a similar message to the standing-room-only audience of Christians and Muslims Sunday evening.

"We have become a totally divided, fragmented family, claiming one Father, but we're all at each other's throats," he said. "We don't all have to demonstrate our faith in the same way, but there is only one faith, one Lord. We pray that when this evening is over that we will see how close God has brought us, one to the other."

It was a loud and joyous occasion -- a night of hymn singing and arm waving and enthusiastic acclamations of faith.

It was an evening that called to mind the fervent enthusiasm of the civil rights movement at its height.

"I sense something special happening," said Mr. Chavis.

"I sense a spiritual awakening in our community, a coming together at the grass roots level. I see this in the gang summits that are taking place around the country. I see this here tonight."

It is all right, I suppose, to describe this coming together of all levels of the black community as a "spiritual awakening."

But I prefer to describe it in more mundane terms: Folks finally are coming to their senses.

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