A Golden Opportunity


News that the African American population in Washington has decreased is alarming.   The recent Census report indicates that African Americans will no longer be in the majority has startled many in the African American community. This news has come with a “tsunamic” like force.  It is being talked about around kitchen tables, in barbershops and hair salons, on buses, in bars and other places known for black political conversations. A recent article in the Washington Post raised the question as to whether or not Washington’s rich black culture can survive in the midst of the changing demographics. Historic areas like U Street and Shaw are now expanding to reflect economic and social changes.  Change is inevitable and if properly accommodated, it can become a wonderful opportunity for all.

One of the richest treasures in the African American community is its churches. Week after week many make their way to these historical houses of worship that provide solace and strength with the spiritual, gospel, and contemporary soundtrack of the African American religious experience. Black churches are very diverse in its socio-economic, political and theological make-up and perspectives.  However, the old saying still holds true, that Sunday morning at 11 a.m. is the most segregated hour of the week. This has more to do with the liturgical and denominational preferences of Christian believers and less to do with racial attitudes and beliefs. If black churches in Washington, DC are to survive, they must build on the belief that all are welcome. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about the utopia of a “beloved community” where all could live and worship together.  I believe that black churches, particularly those who still preach and work toward social justice and liberation are more open to the notion than many would have you to think. Although, there is a lack of racial diversity on Sunday morning, the sign “All Are Welcome” still hangs in the heart of the black church.

The poet Elizabeth Alexander in her poem “Praise Song for the Day,” written for the inauguration of President Barack Obama, joins us at the intersection of history and hope, the place where we now find ourselves. She reintroduces the notion of The Golden Rule which for Christians is love thy thy neighbor as thyself and for some other faiths, first do no harm or take no more than you need. Then she poses the million-dollar question that will make winners of us all, What if the mightiest word is love?

The Golden Rule presents for us a golden opportunity – the opportunity to build community, a beloved community. We can do this street by street, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, and ward by ward. Washington, DC can and should become an example for all.

Thomas L. Bowen



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