I am pleased to present this guest essay from my friend and colleague, Tyrone Nelson. A former school board candidate,Tyrone Nelson is well known in the greater Richmond Community. He is the pastor of the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia,the president of the ecumenical social justice advocacy group, RISC (Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Communities)and serves on the board of the Gilpin Jackson Center, Historic Jackson Ward Association, and the Elegba Folklore Society.
Are We Serious? Some Truth Telling by Pastor Tyrone Nelson
On a recent trip to the barbershop, I overheard a middle aged woman speaking with unbridled passion about the “pay for play” plan to sell the United States Congressional Senate seat of our President-elect. She was amazed at “the level of corruption” and the “It’s all about me and my wallet” politicking that Illinois Governor Blagojevich had been accused of. I have heard a continuous flow of intense conversation and verbal hay making thrown the direction of Governor Blagojevich. As flurries of allegations of crooked politics in Illinois and Chicago continues to threatens and distract from this great moment in American history, one thought continues to cross my mind, “ Do we seriously believe this is just happening in Illinois?"
What would make us think that this behavior is inconceivable? I believe that we can find evidence of corruption in more than a few organizations, religious bodies, non-profits, schools, fraternities/sororities, etc. You may say, “ but Pastor, most people are not asking for $500,000 fundraising gifts, jobs for spouses, and likewise”. You are right, probably not, hopefully not. But, shrewd,perhaps more subtle, but oftentimes unethical politics are found in many organizations. The “pay for play” agenda is defined by the desire to get something back in return for something you have of value and presents itself in many forms. The School Board member who promises to fulfill “a special request” for a certain school if a certain parent rallies around a certain agenda. The City Council/Alderman candidate that promises to erect stop signs throughout a district, in exchange for the support of a Neighborhood Watch president with considerable influence in a heavily populated portion of the district. A church trustee that influences the votes of members of the congregation in hopes that support of a new clergy leader would lead to their agenda moving forward. The manager who posts a job opening knowing he has already preselected for “the person that will carry forth their vision”, regardless of the mission of the company. A parent who offers ice cream, a night at the movies, and toys, in exchange for their child’s “good behavior”. Shrewd politics can be found in many areas of our lives. We have all in some way experienced this type of politicking and “pay for play” philosophy.
Do we seriously believe that none of this exists in Richmond politics? Do we seriously believe that Henrico and Chesterfield politics are exempt from this methodology? Do we think that Amelia, Prince George, Charles City, Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, and any city or county in Virginia, are all squeaky clean of this type of agenda? Are we serious? Do we dare to believe that in our presidential elections, congressional races, state legislature races, and even local elections, there were no shrewd, borderline unethical conversations had? Or do we turn our heads until the unethical behavior is staring us in the face? Will we be silent until the elephant in the room stands on our plastic covered sofa?
However, from February 2007 through November 2008, we watched our nation catch the fever of hope, a hope for a fair and just community and society. A hope for “business as usual” to die, and for the same tired way of doing things to hear its committal rites and be buried with the dirt of death. I firmly believe that Barack Obama was elected our 44th president for this very reason. The people of the democracy wanted a new voice from the choices they were given. Yes, he is a minority and that is exciting. Yes, he is an eloquent, passionate pro claimer of hope and that is promising. Yes, he has a great vision and direction for this country. But beyond that, the people wanted something new right now. The people made the choice. Not Congress. Not churches. Not African Americans. All the people of this great country collectively elected him. Democracy at its purest sense is about the people, not preplanned political bartering.
I hope for my city to catch this vision. I hope for Virginia to enter the New Year embracing democracy and understanding the power of the individual vote and voice. I hope for 2009 to be a year where we embrace an inclusive plan to move forward in a manner that speaks to the core of the inner good in all of us. I hope for a plan to eliminate homelessness. I hope for a plan that follows the lead of Crossover Ministries and Bon Secours to provide healthcare to the uninsured. I hope for communities that are not afraid to turn criminals in and rehabilitate our neighborhoods. I hope for a vision-minded leadership model in Greater Richmond and the tri-cities that engages and values everyone. I hope that people will speak up when they see things are wrong. I hope for a people to raise up a new generation of leaders to replace unresponsive leadership. I hope for a community that will care for one child at a time. I hope for parents to commit to attending PTA’s and parent teacher conferences. I hope for a region that would attend community and council meetings to become civilly involved. We can no longer afford to turn a deaf ear toward non-progress in Richmond. Yes, I hope!
I do not share this out of naivete. I know that the "barter system" has long been a part of our culture. We give in exchange for what can be given to us. This system permeates every area of our lives. The challenge of this system is that it does not respect the core principles of democracy. Democracy was created to give the people a voice and a choice. When preplanned agendas set the course through selfish “all for me” bartering we negate and cheat the democratic process. Whether in political office, working for a non-profit, or in the selection process of leadership, prearranged deals stifle and choke out democracy and inclusion.
Are we serious enough to take action? I hope we are. Our future growth and community development depend upon it. We cannot continue to recycle leadership, prearrange or barter political positions, or be apathetic about what is going on, because if we do, we stunt our growth. Let 2009 be the year, the time, the moment in history, when we shift our mental direction and focus on what's fair, honest, and right. I have asked God to forgive me for my role in any unfair process or ideology whether initiated by me or others around me. For every opportunity that was denied a person, because of outside agendas, that did not respect the gifts/talents of others, I sincerely seek forgiveness. Will you follow my lead and fight to end this behavior in 2009?
I love our city. I love our state. I love our country. I love our democracy. My hope is that we capture the essence of the opportunity in our history. A moment of change. A moment of democracy at its best.