My High Points at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor 12th Annual Conference
June 7, 2017 by Herbert Daughtry
I thought we were through with conferences. Then, on Wednesday, May 31, 2017, in the Daily Challenge, there was a story about the Black Veterans for Social Justice (BVSJ) having its festivities during Memorial Day Weekend. The BVSJ provides multiple services for veterans. I cannot write about conferences I have attended or organized, or have been a part of without mentioning the BVSJ.
Mr. Job Masharaki (BVSJ’s Founder and Executive Director), Mr. Jitu Weusi, members of the Metropolitan Black United Front (MBUF), and elected officials were gathered at The House of the Lord Church for a discussion on various issues in the community, and how we would address them. State Senator Vander Beatty who represented our district said that we didn’t have an organization for Black veterans. Mr. Mashariki spoke up and said, “Yes, we do.” After the meeting, Mr. Mashariki began to organize the BVSJ.
As I began to reflect on the BVSJ, several other conferences came to mind. The Timbuktu Learning Center was a weekly gathering at The House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, NY. The rich diversity of people of African ancestry were always present. Anybody who was anybody could be found at The House of the Lord Church every Wednesday night. They all came for history lessons, to be informed of current events, to organize, make announcements, etc. Leading scholars in every field, professionals of every description, diplomats, elected officials, performing artists, statesmen, activists, revolutionaries, etc. would come and share their knowledge and experience gratis. They were eager to present to a crowded and intelligent audience. These sessions started in 1977, and continued into the 1990s.
The National Black United Front (NBUF) delegation participated in an international Conference on Sanctions Against South Africa at the UNESCO House in Paris, France on May 20-27, 1981. I have already mentioned that I attended the anti-apartheid conference in Paris with Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1986. The conference in Paris was attended by over 700,000 persons, representing 134 countries, liberation groups, and non-governmental organizations. The conference passed resolutions, calling for comprehensive, mandatory sanctions. There was a special declaration on Namibia which reaffirmed the direct responsibility of the United Nations for Namibia which under G.A. Resolution 2248 (in 1967) gave the United Nations counsel for Namibia’s legal administering authority for the territory until genuine independence is achieved in a united Namibia. We did a lot of work around Namibia, including raising money, demonstrating boycotts, etc.
Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, who later became the President of the Council of Namibia and General Assembly of the UN, was a frequent visitor at my church as was a number of revolutionaries and liberators, even Joshua Nkomo, the godfather of the Southern African Liberation Movement and head of the Zimbabwe African People Union.
Likewise, I made reference to the UN with Rev. Jesse Jackson, but there were frequent conferences at the UN when I was Chair of the NBUF. On two occasions, in November 13, 1980 and November 25, 1981, I spoke at the special political committee of the United Nations.
After I resigned as the Chair of the National Black United Front in 1986, I wanted to start a movement or an organization that combined Afro-centricity and fundamental Biblical teachings in the context of radical activism which would include individual salvation, personal/spiritual growth, and confrontation with systemic or institutionalized injustice or racism. Thus, was born the African People’s Christian Organization (APCO). Assemblyman Charles Barron was our first Executive Director.
In April 2010, I was a member of a delegation invited by former President Abdoulaye Wade to Senegal, West Africa for the unveiling of the African Renaissance Monument. Among the delegation were Rev. Jesse Jackson; Ms. Roslyn Brock, Chairperson of the NAACP; Mr. Ben Jealous, Former President of the NAACP; Mr. Marc Morial, President of the Urban League; Dr. Leonard Jeffries; Dr. Maulana Karenga; and, Mr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was at this conference that Mr. Bunch gave us the progress report on the construction of the Museum.
While there, we visited the Door of No Return. We stood at the doorway, looking out across the dark, angry waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and reflected for what seemed an interminable time as we tried to feel and visualize what it must have been like for our ancestors who were taken from such a place – never to see home and family again, sailing off into the unknown on a long journey of indescribable suffering.
Again, just when I thought I was done with conferences, strangely, there came into my view, while I was searching for something totally unrelated to the conference, a group photo of multi-racial, evangelical ministers taken in Arrow Spring, CA in June 1968. In 1966, after Mr. Kwame Ture screamed, “Black Power,” in Greenwood, Mississippi, it generated one of the most heated debates in American history. Significantly, a number of white Americans went into hysteria. They were sure it meant violence, hatred, reverse racism, anti-Americanism, etc. Among this group were white evangelicals. Historically, they have always been on the same side with the reactionaries, racists, and/or right wing elements in America.
We were invited by Mr. Bill Bright, head of Campus Crusade, along with other evangelicals, who decided to convene a conference of Black and White evangelicals to discuss Black Power and what should be the evangelicals’ response. There was one other Pentecostal brother in the country who shared my theology of Afro-centrism and Radical Activism. His name was Rev. Bill Bentley of Chicago, IL.
We spent a week pouring our souls, trying to the whites and Blacks understand, not necessarily agree or endorse, the meaning of Black Power. They didn’t engage in the debate or discussion. They wanted to talk about the spiritual laws of Campus Crusade.
Finally, at the end of the conference, they called for a Prayer Meeting. It was the only prayer meeting I ever boycotted. I felt there was something insincere and shallow about praying together at that time. We had spent the week opening our hearts expressing our honest feelings regarding what we believed, and appealing for their understanding, but there was no response or no substantive engagement. So, as they commenced praying, I went to my room.
There was one more conference. It was at Malone College, and it also involved religious leaders. Perhaps, this is the reason that I remembered it. It was a gathering of liberal and evangelical religious leaders. They had been meeting secretly for understanding and unity among themselves.
The late Dr. Bill Weber, formally the President of the NY Theological Seminary, and a long-time mentor and friend, invited Rev. Bentley and I to one of the conferences. We understood both of their positions, and saw no dichotomy. As I have mentioned, we had long since synthesized a holistic approach to ministry.
I remember when one of the presidents from a conservative theological school responded to our presentation, “I hear my theology, but I can’t hear or understand the sociology or the politics.” But, we were treated exceptionally well by all who were in attendance.
Perhaps, it was in the divine order of things that I should close with religious conferences. For that is where it all started with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.
… to be continued.