Emory Report
February 19, 2007
Volume 59, Number 20

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February 19, 2007
Theologian issues ‘call to action’ for black America
BY carol clark

Robert Franklin's calendar is filling up fast following the Feb. 1 publication of his latest book -- "Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities." The Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at Emory's Candler School of Theology has been asked to speak about the issues raised in the book at high schools, universities, churches and, on Feb. 20, at a National Press Club forum in Washington.

"This book is really a call to conversation and a call for reconciliation, because I think there's a lot of polarization in the African American body politic," said Franklin. "But dialogue alone is not enough. The book is also a call to action."

"Crisis in the Village" analyzes the challenges currently faced by three key anchor institutions of African Americans: black families, black churches and historically black colleges and universities. It also outlines practical steps that individuals and organizations can take to create positive change in these areas.

Emory Report caught up with Franklin between his appearances for "Crisis in the Village" to find out more about the book.

EMORY REPORT : What kind of reaction are you getting to the book so far?

ROBERT FRANKLIN: People are generally pleased that I'm trying to keep this conversation alive and that I'm offering practical action steps for moving beyond talk. There has been some argument generated by people who take issue with the way in which I've framed some of the issues.

ER: What issues, in particular, are people sensitive about?

FRANKLIN: For instance, I'm advocating that black churches and community leaders need to declare a moratorium on mean-spirited rhetoric aimed at the gay and lesbian community. Homosexuality is currently one of the great divisions throughout the American religious community. In the African American religious community this division is heightened, in part because there is enormous anxiety about the future of black marriages and families.

I'm arguing that even if black church leaders aren't prepared to affirm homosexuality they should not be condemning gays and lesbians. Instead, they should be starting a dialogue. There is enormous ignorance about sex in general, and certainly about homosexuality, in the black Protestant community. It would be beneficial to bring scholars into the churches to discuss these issues. This is an opportunity for churches to learn.

ER: You advocate for individuals to take part in "concrete rituals of personal renewal," such as praying and reflecting on their lives. You suggest that they do this each Wednesday at noon -- the middle of the day in the middle of the week -- to evoke a sense of the Middle Passage of the slave journey across the Atlantic and the middle of a painful transition the African American community is undergoing today. Have early readers of the book been receptive to this idea?

Franklin: Yes, people have asked me to talk more about that. I'm trying to offer developmental steps into a life of moral integrity and activism. People have different starting points and they need to be provided with easy, accessible means of participation, along with more advanced strategies. Everybody can read a book, have a dialogue or say a prayer to become a part of the collective renewal process. Hopefully, that effort becomes a habit and matures so people then ask, 'Okay, what more can I do?' Mentoring someone would be an example of going a step beyond personal renewal. You could then scale that up into joining the efforts of larger organizations and initiatives.

ER: You also suggest that young people use technology to get involved in creating positive change. Can you elaborate on that?

FRANKLIN: That idea was inspired by my own teenagers, who are constantly sending me text messages and holding me accountable for doing something, like picking them up in the carpool. It occurred to me, what if students used their cell phones and computers to send messages of gratitude and encouragement to people who are doing things for their schools and communities? That would help ensure that students are part of the process and it's not just adults doing things for young people. It might help generate more student activism.

During the civil rights era, there were a lot of students who actually helped transform American democracy. Why can't more young people today, who have so much more connectivity, use the technology that they enjoy so much to help improve the world?

ER: What is the key message you hope people get from the book?

FRANKLIN: One thing I'm hoping that people will walk away with is the inspiration to do all they can to promote a culture of high expectations and healthy relationships, especially among youth. We need to do more to encourage good behavior and academic success. And we need to teach kids about healthy dating and affirming and accepting others. This idea can also be translated into how neighborhoods operate and how organizations do their business.