Written by Connie Larkman
Emphasis on Black liberation and salvation culled the 20th Convocation of the United Black Christians (UBC) of the United Church of Christ. Convened in pristine Hartford, Conn., in historic Faith Congregational Church UCC, members from across the United States examined the journey of Black people that has led to this period when unprecedented social design results in high numbers of children being incarcerated and uneducated.
"Lest we forget" was this year's theme based on Deuteronomy 8:11. UBC President Carol Brown used the convocation to express her concerns and that of others about the "cradle to prison pipeline." Staff from the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries provided statistics reflecting the disproportionate rate at which African Americans are trapped in the nation's growing penal system.
According to the Rev. Sala Nolan, minister for criminal justice and human rights, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with African Americans representing nearly 40 percent of prisoners.
At the same time, says Jan Resseger, the UCC's minister for public education, the country spends an average of $4,000 a year to educate each child and more than $40,000 to imprison each inmate. Thus, the cradle to prison pipeline increasingly defines the future of America's youth.
Edie Rassell, an economist and the UCC's minister for economic justice, provided an analysis of the nation's current financial crisis, as a "man made situation" that has no natural origin. She demonstrated the relationship between poverty and unemployment. "There is a direct tie to lowering poverty and increasing jobs," she told the Convocation. Blacks, Native Americans and Latinos experience the highest levels of poverty in America and the highest unemployment.
UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black reminded the group that "observation leads to obligation." He explained whenever we observe the plight or condition of others we are obligated to act on their behalf. He also shared the denomination's Vision Plan with some insights on its applicability in our communities.
The attendees were challenged to make a commitment to address the issues Black people are facing. More is expected than having information about what is taking place today. UBC has a legacy of advocacy and civil engagement to forge social, economic, and racial justice.
It was not lost on those participating in the convocation that the site of the event was a station of the Underground Railroad, which provided passage for slaves fleeing to freedom. The symbolic significance of the location also served to remind each person of the church's history as a relevant presence during periods of human crisis. "Lest we forget" the past we will be doomed to repeat it.
UBC affirmed seven emerging leaders (under the age of 40), announced seven Richard and Helen Brown pastoral scholarship recipients, and elected a new national president, Charles Carpenter of Congregational UCC of Park Manor in Chicago.
The emphasis on liberation, salvation and justice was strengthened with Bible study led by the Rev. Valentino Lassiter, Eastview United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and preaching by the Rev. Kenneth Samuels of Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, Ga., the Rev. Tamara Moreland, Liberty Christian Center, the Rev. Jerry Street, Dixwell Avenue Congregational UCC in Hartford, Conn., and the Rev. Elizabeth Clement, associate director for leadership gifts for the UCC's national offices in Cleveland.