'Get up and walk, black man!' On a men’s program at Old Bethel UMC

By Barney Blakeney

CHARLESTON—I’m constantly reminded I don’t know everything. It’s something I learned a long time ago and a lesson that sunk in, but it often is reiterated because a lot of stuff goes on I know nothing about.

It happened again Feb. 2 when I attended a men’s program at Old Bethel United Methodist Church in Charleston.

The United Methodist Men groups at Old Bethel and Wesley in Charleston came together to sponsor a joint program that brought together men from various congregations in the Charleston area to talk about issues pertinent to black men. I’m always down with those kinds of activities—brothers got a lot of work to do. I believe organization, strategy and implementation are keys to success.

My Uncle Teddy used to say, “Plan your work and work your plan.” So I try to get down with folks who do that. I was a little confused about the event, however. I thought it was going to be an informal discussion and planning session. It was a formal program. I’m often reluctant to get involved in formal activities that involve a lot of discussing stuff.

Black folks tend to discuss things a lot. We’ll hold 50/11 meetings talking about stuff and never get down to actually doing very much. Oh, we’re Johnny on the spot when it comes to planning and executing the party. But when it comes to dealing with some of the issues that impact our quality of life, we’re too often a little slow to roll.

It took some women to get me moving on the men’s program. My brother Wallace called the day before to remind me, but I was moving slow Saturday morning. That’s my morning to watch cowboys on television. I was watching “Have Gun will Travel” when Shirley called asking if I was going to the program. I told her how I felt about another bull session. She noted everything starts with bull sessions.

“You gotta start somewhere,” she said.

Then Donna called saying she and Aunt Kitty were going. Donna assumed I was going. I was a little taken aback by the thought that women were attending a guy’s thing. Donna explained she was asked to prepare food. I considered Shirley’s point that everything starts somewhere and I always hate disappointing Donna so I saddled up and headed to the meeting.

It was among the best decisions I’ve ever made!

When I got there late wearing sneakers and a sweatshirt, I found a sea of men dressed in black suits seated at the front of the church backed up by just as many women seated behind them in support. It was an awesome vision—all those brothers, young and old, supported by all those women. I knew I had walked into a powerful setting. I wasn’t disappointed.

I quickly realized it would be a formal program rather than the informal bull session I had expected. There was prayer and scripture reading so I settled in for what I thought would be another church service where the sermon would be about the role of men. I was OK with that, and the spirit was in the house.

I was right about the topic of discussion, but it wasn’t just another sermon. The Rev. Nelson Rivers, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, was speaker—and he brought fire!

I’ve known Rev. Nelson Rivers a long time—always admired him. Nelson is a worker, a builder, a no-nonsense leader who makes things happen. When I started in this newspaper business, I watched him lead in his former profession, as a musician and as the leader in the NAACP: the Charleston branch, the North Charleston branch, the South Carolina and Southeast conferences and national NAACP organization. I watched him lead his beloved Wilberforce University Alumni Association and now Charity Missionary Baptist Church. The brother is dynamic!

I’ve heard Nelson speak a few times. He’s a dynamic orator so I expected a rousing delivery. What I didn’t expect was his spirit-filled message that gave us men in attendance an idea of where we could start in a process to address issues confronting black men.

He admonished the group to “Get Up And Walk!”

Nelson said a lot—much more than I can repeat here—but essentially he used Scripture and experience to offer a vision of where we came from, where we are and where we must go. He’s a preacher, so much of what he delivered was scripturally based. Everything he said was spiritually based. He took us back to the days when some of us were in the clubs and on the streets making decisions as young men. He talked about Emmanuel AME Church preacher Daniel Payne’s school and the 1835 South Carolina law enacted to prevent blacks from reading. He noted the irony of demanding black folks read in order to vote.

Nelson emphasized that we must expect, but we also must inspect. He said we must take stock of what we try to accomplish. It’s not enough to merely expect success; we also must measure our success.

That part got me. Too often we get the “feel good” just because we try to do stuff, but aren’t realistic about what we actually get done. Half-baked bread makes you sick! You can’t half-raise a black boy—you end up with an end product that makes you sick, commits fratricide and destroys your community.

Nelson told us he was thankful for all the old men who stood at the forks in the road of his life and gave him guidance. The late Rev. Fred D. Dawson once told him, “We can’t lead men where we don’t go and we can’t teach them what we don’t know.”

"Don’t cripple the crippled!" he admonished. “Many black men are crippled from birth by racism, hopelessness, violence and poverty so they choose to beg, sell drugs, live off others or steal to make it. But there is another way! Don’t cripple the crippled by being an enabler of evil or dangerous behavior or self-destructive choices. Yes, money is important when you live in a capitalistic society. But money should be a tool and not weapon. And it should not be your love object!”

Nelson said a lot of stuff Saturday. At the end he implored the men to, “Make 2019 the year of the men! Do not ignore women and girls, but in 2019 you should reach out, reach down and even reach through to help our brothers get up and walk!”

The brothers of Old Bethel and Wesley say they will use Saturday’s event as the beginning of a collaborative that can address what men do going forward.

They hope others will join them.

Blakeney is a member of Wesley UMC, Charleston.

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