Fueled by the tremendous crossover success of the 1968 recording "Oh Happy Day" by Edwin Hawkins, the era of large choirs exploded onto the gospel music scene. Hawkins, his talented siblings and other family members broke the dominance of Chicago as the gospel music capital of the world and eclipsed James Cleveland's reign upon the music style and repertoire of the genre.
As a musician in a community gospel choir and founder of a university gospel choir at the time, I was drawn to the music of Walter and Edwin Hawkins because it seemed to blend together the soulful Motown and Philly R & B sounds, the introspective genius of a Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, classic and contemporary jazz harmonies and even Latin and African rhythms and syncopations.
This new emergent gospel style, pioneered by the Hawkins, ultimately became known as contemporary gospel. Not only did the music possess more contemporary rhythms and fuller orchestration but the lyrics were like sermons set to music, being deeply rooted in scripture unlike the "7/11 (seven words sang 11 times over and over) songs" so prevalent even today.
The musical offspring of the Hawkins' creativity and spirituality include several contemporary performers who have prospered including the Winans families, Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams and more recently Kirk Franklin, who have all become internationally renowned artists.
Since the early 1970s when I was a church musician and Minister of Music until now as a Pastor, the music of Walter and Edwin has been the standard of excellence for me and I have always included one or more Walter or Edwin Hawkins musical compositions in the church order of service. They make up a substantial majority of our repertoire of praise and/or worship music even to this day.
RIP Bishop Walter Hawkins. What you have done is MARVELOUS!
The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was THE sign, many proclaimed, that the long, torturous climb toward the pinnacle of racial equality had finally been conquered.
The election of thousands of black legislators and public administrators along with the appointment of countless private industry CEO’s, corporate officers and executives, able to walk through doors opened by unprecedented grassroots political mobilization and the protest demands of the Civil Rights movement, also seduced us into thinking that the war against oppression had come to an end.
And more recently, an educational crisis representing what is arguably the most formidable challenge facing the African-American community in the 21st Century, was met head-on locally when a minority-majority public school board with three of the five members being African American and another being Hispanic, was elected in Toledo.
Yet the progress at TPS has been much like that elsewhere – symbolic only. With expanded black access to school board seats in a district where the majority of students are of color, it is reasonable to expect to see policy changes resulting in higher percentages of black teachers, more African-American male teachers, a larger proportion of blacks attending college, fewer minorities suspended, dropping out or in special education classes and more students of color in gifted programs and enriched classes.
And with an $821 million building construction program, you would also expect to see a drastically larger share of contract funds going to minority businesses as well as the establishment of a relevant minority supplier program.
Yet, despite the black leadership presence, there has been a lack of responsiveness to minority concerns such as the racial academic achievement gap, a need for a higher proportion of students going to college, the disparity in resource allocation resulting in vulgar inequities between schools within the same district. The election of the black board members appears to have had very little if any impact.
Why isn’t the community getting the results that we expect?
How unjust it is, that they who have but little should be always adding something to the wealth of the rich! – Terence (Publius Terentius Afer)
Last Tuesday, Toledo Board of Education member Brenda Hill, with support from Board President Bob Vasquez and Lisa Sobecki, voted to close Libbey High School meeting almost 56 years and a week following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision and in the building bearing the name of Brown attorney Thurgood Marshall.
The motion, following an epiphany by Hill, was prompted by voter rejection of Toledo Public Schools’ tax levy and the need to save $1.3 million of the district’s now estimated $39 million budget deficit. Board members Larry Sykes and Jack Ford opposed the measure.
I have fond memories of Libbey, having attended nearly every football, basketball or track event held there in the 60s and early 1970s. I met my wife at the school and all of my neighborhood homies were Cowboys, although I did not attend the institution myself. Yet the rollercoaster vote/re-vote and the emotional and polarizing experience of Libbey’s closing goes far beyond sentimentality to reveal sobering realities and insights that exceed what is attainable in any classroom.
Having advocated to keep the school open, I realize more than ever that the fight for justice and equity does not consist of “one pitched battle that brings matters to a decisive outcome.” It is rather, a prolonged campaign of trench warfare with occasional small victories or setbacks but largely disappointing drudgery with little discernible change effected. If our commitment to community struggle is to ever last longer than two weeks, this needs to be fully understood.
But also, there remains a need to “fight through our discomfort with open and honest public discussion on race” so that legitimate grievances can be addressed rather than being trivialized or dismissed as “playing the race card.” Ford, in his dissenting remarks, indicated that the outcomes of past levies always fall to the advantage of the adults and schools in the more privileged neighborhoods despite the unfailing support of the black community and that the poorer schools bear the brunt of the budget cuts when levies do not pass. As a result, he was severely criticized in the media for bringing up the subject of race.
What makes a teenager stab his mother over a cheeseburger? What tragedy in the black community does something like that reveal - domestic violence, missing fathers, out of control kids, poor parenting or demons within?
One thing is certain. The black family or African American home, where peace and harmony once prevailed, is no longer a sanctuary from societal assaults. Instead we have internalized the pressures turning them into demons which cause us to redirect violence and aggression upon ourselves and those whom we love.
My life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred carried in my own heart. James Baldwin
Male, Afra-feminist, Liberationist, Doctor of Ministry (DMin), Pastor/Social Activist of an urban, inner-city church offering a theological perspective on the day to day issues faced by a marginalized people.