Goal: To register a million new voters
By Hazel Trice Edney
This Sunday morning, April 8, millions of people will head to Easter services to hear the Gospel on the day that some call Resurrection Sunday. But, for many, this year will be different.
Pastors of dozens of congregations across the nation will not only preach the good news of a risen savior; but they will also call for their congregants to resurrect the movement for equality and justice in America by registering to vote. A million new voters is the goal.
“I really felt like I couldn’t see or hear where the Black church was becoming engaged in the national conversation relative to the politics of America,” said the Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the 8,000-member Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, who is leading the drive. “I couldn’t hear a voice. I really felt like there was a void and our generation was really listening to hear one. And out of that I called the churches together to see what we could do collectively, realizing that there is strength in numbers.”
He continues, “You can listen to Black Radio, Christian Radio or watch Black Christian television hours on end and not hear pastors say anything of social regard. And I think that this is a call for pastors and the people back to the front lines and to get off of the side lines.”
Bryant, former NAACP National Youth and College director, has called on his pastoral colleagues to raise their prophetic voices through the vehicle of a new nonpartisan organization – The Empowerment Movement. The initiative is being birthed amidst tenuous political and social circumstances, including national debates over issues such as same sex unions, President Obama’s health care initiative and the horrendous shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.
Bryant, who led a Justice for Trayvon rally in Sanford last month, was elected by pastors from at least 30 different denominations as president/ CEO of the new organization. They have all agreed to use their pulpits this Sunday to preach both spiritual and political empowerment.
“’Resurrect the movement’ is the name of this weekend,” Bryant says in a telephone interview. “Since the assassination of Dr. King we’ve seen a real slump in activism in consciousness in the Black church and moreover in the Black pulpit.”
Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968, 44 years ago this week. He was founder of the now 57-year-old Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization now getting its footing back after several years of turmoil in leadership.
“All of the churches had been making statements singularly, but not collectively,” says the 40-year-old Bryant. “And the Black church really has not moved in a collective arm on a national level since Dr. King’s SCLC initiative. So, I think when you do something positive many times the press doesn’t pick it up. But, I think that if all of us would come together and beat the drums somebody will hear it.”
On Sunday, pastors across the nation will not only appeal for voter registration, but people will also be instructed how they can register on their cell phones and lap tops. Facebook and Twitter will also be engaged in the movement with more information found at www.Empowermentmovement.org.
Still, convincing an apathetic people to register and then actually go to the polls and vote will be a major challenge that Bryant readily acknowledges:
“I think a lot of us African Americans think they’ve arrived into equality with a Black President and with the beacon light of billionaires like Bob Johnson or Magic Johnson or Oprah Winfrey. It gives us a false sense of security. In instances like Trayvon Martin, our wake up call, we’ve still got miles to go.”
Among the 25-30 congregations participating in the drive are AME, CME, AME Zion, Baptist, Bible Way, Church of God in Christ, Full Gospel, Gospel Music Workshop of America, United Covenant Churches, Harvest Churches, Fellowship of international Word of Faith, Church of God, according to a release.
Bryant concludes, “It is my prayer that just as the religious right has been very strategic in lifting their voice and speaking to their issues and concerns that The Empowerment Movement will really be the epicenter of social-spiritual consciousness for this generation of African Americans.”