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Y’Know the problem with the black community is…

“You know what the problem is in the black community? They need to stop having babies out of wedlock and the fathers need to be around to support their family.” Supposedly, this piece of advice is the cure-all for the black community. At least that is what some of my white friends tell me. I sit and listen intently and nod my head as though I am in agreement. Sure, having a strong family structure would certainly help the black community. But would it have prevented the recent riot in Milwaukee?

After all, my dad was a central figure in my life! He was a bi-vocational pastor, and he brought a strong Christian influence into our home. However, I still managed to embrace a life of crime growing up in Milwaukee. Ironic as it may sound, living in the home with my dad is what perpetuated my life of crime. It was his experiences that influenced my behavior!

My dad was born and raised in Oxford, MS during the days of Jim Crow. My dad was not afforded the opportunity at a good quality education. Instead of attending school, he grew up in the fields picking cotton. Unfortunately, he never went past the third grade.

Whites Only signHis experience with white America was far from positive. He was not allowed to vote nor could he drink out of the same water fountain as a white man. My dad could not eat at the same establishments as whites nor was he allowed to ride in the front of the bus when whites were present. My dad was called a nigger so much it became a second language in my home. However, people in my community took the sting out of the word by changing it to “Nigga” as a form of endearment between two or more black people. Today, I hear young white kids calling each other our version of the name. I guess it caught on!

But before I get too far away from my original  thought, I said all of that to say: I wish having a dad in the home was the cure all for Milwaukee’s problem. Those who believe so certainly haven’t considered someone like me — someone who grew up with a dad experiencing the racism, hatred, and discrimination as mine did.

My dad instilled in me that society would not allow me to be anything I dreamed to be because he himself had not been allowed to become anything he wanted to be. He taught me that I would need to find a way to make an honest living in spite of the racism and discrimination that I would most certainly face. My dad was not out of line in warning me about the society we lived in because this was his reality.

I grew up believing I was hated by white America and would never be afforded a fair opportunity to succeed. Though my dad did fairly well for himself as a blue collar worker, he still experienced racism in the workplace. I heard his stories daily as he returned home from work. After hearing his stories, visions of my dad slaving for a racist white man was not the life I desired. This is why I became a drug dealer.

Talk about debunking the idea that having a dad in the house will end the problems in the inner city. I have five siblings, and none of us were born out of wedlock, but I still chose a life of crime because of my dad’s experience with white America.

It appears to me that everyone living in the surrounding areas outside of Milwaukee have the answer for black people. We now have suburbanites who are experts on the contributing factors of inner city plight.  However, our ugly past of America’s treatment of blacks is never mentioned as a contributing factor to black plight!

In fact, nothing has ever been done to repair the centuries of harm inflicted on the black community. The natives were given land and black people as slaves for the harm that was done to them at the hands of America. The Japanese received reparations for the harm done to them at the hands of America. The black community has received advice encouraging more father participation in our homes.  If there are those who truly believe the riot was the aftermath of absent fathers in the black community, then we have a much larger problem.

I do not condone violence and I utterly speak against the actions of those rioting. Let me also be clear by saying that I love and respect the white community just as much as I do the black community.  However, I understand the problem is much deeper than the surface that many are looking at. I understand the problem from the inside and to say that I am a bit troubled is an understatement!

I could be off base! Maybe those 300 years of being three-fifths of a person had zero impact on the black community.  Maybe some of my white friends are right! If we could just produce better fathers in our community, all would be well.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged! In all my years of living in Milwaukee, this was the first time I have seen such a unified community and faith-based response. I saw white and black people of faith being the body of Christ in response to the rioting. I pray this is the beginning. Soon all the cameras will disappear! I pray I live to see black and white people of faith being the body of Christ in response to America’s 300 hundred years of sin committed against the black community.  Maybe what I witnessed is the manifestation of a Gospel that includes both a proclamation and a healing touch.

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26 Comments

  1. A strong, Christ-driven father will go a long way though. I don’t think we can entirely dismiss the lack of a POSITIVE father figure in the life of a child. I do not know your father. It seems like his perception was that whites are bad…. A false generalization shaped by real life experiences he faced that shaped his perceptions, thus shaping yours. Imagine if he used his experiences to shape a perception for you that there are bad people out there, but also good people also, regardless of race and we should seek them out to help fix what is wrong.
    You are right though, it won’t fix all. What we are seeing is the results of many years and many multi layered issues and problems that become so tangled it is hard to sort out and solve. It will take time and dedicated, patient people on both sides working with a sense of urgency to move the needle significantly.

    • Yes, his father could have had a different outlook, but the fact is that his outlook was shaped by his experiences. I think what the pastor is trying to convey is that blacks’ experiences with other blacks (e.g. a black child and missing father) is not the only cause of issues within the black community. That explanation doesn’t take into account the experiences that blacks have had with others in this country and world, and more importantly it creates the false impression that the black community alone is responsible for strengthening itself. But as the body of Christ, ALL of us have a responsibility to offer that healing to the black community (and all in need of it, btw), beginning with acts of mercy and love towards all. That maybe would have prevented his father from having that mindset in the first place, and you can imagine how the rest of the story would have changed from there. I definitely agree that what we see today is the effect of many years of people (who probably would have considered themselves Christians) shirking their duties, but that’s just the point- no one group caused what we see today, so one group isn’t going to fix it. We all must come together and do what we have been called to do. Much love to you.

  2. There seems to be a greater shift from how could a group of people do this to a mindset that says how could we let societal deficits exist as a whole that create pockets of individuals that choose to do things that are so against societal norms. The idea that one factor, in your example family structure, can have a substantial enough impact on a person to rebel against generally accepted views on appropriate behavior is archaic and blames individuals instead of looking at problems on the macro level. Unfortunately, the problems that exist in high areas of concentrated poverty are so complex that there really hasn’t been progress made at an appropriate pace. While many attempts have been made to fix specific problems, the only real solution is to integrate, not only racially, but more importantly socio-economically. A lot of what we are seeing is a poverty issue that has stemmed from an ongoing race issue. The fact that these two are so closely tied should be seen as our greatest societal problem today.

  3. The last two comments sounded to me, a white woman, like lectures and thus, part of the problem. I think what a post like I’ve read here demands more empathy. Kurt, thank you for sharing this. It is only in my forties that I have begun to better appreciate stories such as yours. I am praying God helps more to understand and listen to voices like yours.

  4. Concerned Christian

    I don’t agree. It was not what I expected. Fathers and more family may help. It does not solve the problem though. To state you sold drugs because of racism though. I’m white and I too sold drugs at a low point of my life. I didn’t however think it was because of racism. It is easy money and a status among your peers. I have a few question that are bothering me though. Did you sell drugs to the white community to get back at the way your father was treated? They natives have there land because they came together and fought for it though the right channels. Do you hear of them shooting themselves or burning there communities up? The Japanese well that was just a poor example. I just found your statement filled with racism. Christian thinking was not applied here. The Hebrews were enslaved and the Jews were enslaved the Chinese built the railroads and were enslaved. The problem I have is the excuses for criminal behavior. The black communities can succeed and many blacks Chinese Japanese Hispanics and women and whites also have succeeded. The difference is the black communities are looking for hand outs. I’m sorry I have worked my entire life. I’m not rich I’m not pointing the finger at the guy down the street though. I work and am happy with what God has given me. Grace and Faith are success not pointing fingers. I’m sorry Pastor Kurt this was the wrong statement to make. It was very discouraging to think love and wisdom were not exercised. White America is not all white people. Look at the politicians that have promised change. Its not all people Its a few and that is being overlooked here. Fact is the select poor communities will never change when the killing and looting and criminal thinking is being excersied daily. Pointing fingers and looking at white suburbs as the promise land. Well that’s not the case. Nothing can change unless change is embraced. The community leaders are not helping by embracing the idea of racism has caused all this. If that was the case the Chinese the Japanese the Hispanics any minority out there would be doing the same. They are not. Criminal selfish and lawlessness is the root cause. This is not change what your staying it’s continued anger. Sorry these are my views and I don’t believe this is how Christians should suggest change.

  5. Blame shifting began in the Garden of Eden . . .
    Eve: “the serpent made me do it!”
    Adam: “This woman who YOU gave me, handed me the fruit and so I ate it. So what? You made me what I am, and now you owe me.”

    It’s a convenient move for handing off the guilt. Convenient, but ultimately futile.
    It took a few days to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but a couple of generations (40 years) to get the Egypt out of the Israelites. How many generations will it take to get the slave mentality out of the descendants of 1860’s slave generation?

    • Looking for a Church Home

      Desi, Your question “How many generations will it take to get the slave mentality out of the descendants of 1860’s slave generation?” should have been “how many generations must pass before the slave generation are no longer treated like slaves and sub-standard citizens.” I don’t blame anyone for my lot in life. I thank God for sending his Son to die for my sins and redemption. Perhaps all of the people who agree with you should do some research on how many Blacks fought for equality for ALL but were denied business loans while the Iranians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Hispanics, etc. were awarded what we have worked for for years. It’s funny how you forgot about. I am sorry that you and many like you feel this way and I pray God will open your “Concerned Christian” eyes to the realities of being Black in America. You will never understand the pain and frustration of racism and how it affects a persons life. I’m not saying that we blame others for our actions . What I am saying is that if we are concerned Christians then we need to pray for understanding and forgiveness (both sides) as God has done for us. I appreciate that Pastor Owens told his story and admitted to his sinful past. By the way, I do not agree with looting and burning of our neighborhoods and I certainly don’t blame Jim Crow for anyone becoming a criminal. I do believe, however, that some people will take the easy, lazy way out for obtaining what they want and need in life. This is not a Black issue but a human issue experienced by all ethnic groups.

  6. Putting it another way, repent from the collective guilt mentality, brother. You are correct to push back on the cheap advice for “the black community” from suburban critics living in relative comfort. However, you fall prey to cheap advice from mendacious hustlers when you buy into the “y’all oppressed us for three hundred years and still oppress us, and so you owe us.” Beyond owing a debt of love, and a call to neighborliness in the spirit of Leviticus 19:9-27, the people of palor who are your neighbors owe you nothing, beyond a rethinking of the cheap at-a-distance advice, with some reflection on how to come alongside with neighborly assistance in equipping the needy with the Eph 6:10-20 equipment for waging spiritual warfare (after first checking to insure that their own armor is properly in place), and then acting on the results of that reflection in the spirit of James 1:22-25.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+19%3A9-27%2C+Jeremiah+31%3A29-30%2C+Ezekiel+18&version=ESV

  7. There are basically two mindsets when approaching our inner city neighborhoods. The first is rooted in judgement and leads to further alienation. The second is based on empathy and hopefully leads to change. The rioting has forced a lot of people to figure out which mindset they have.

  8. Thank you Pastor Kurt for sharing your story. However as a member of Epikos, I’d have to respectfully disagree with you on several points. No one doubts the oppression of slavery, but we all have our own burdens to carry. How about a young white/Hispanic/Asian man or woman who grows up in poverty, puts himself/herself through school, works hard every day, cares and faithfully brings up his family, and is a good citizen. Does he/she owe something to the black community, separate and unique from what he/she owes to the Milwaukee community and God’s community at large? What else is he/she supposed to do to help the Black community heal and grow both spiritually and economically? I’m sorry about the damage of slavery, I truly am, but I don’t think it gives anyone the right to riot and burn down the businesses of other hardworking community members.

    I think this story in the Journal Sentinel is extraordinarily poignant.

    http://www.jsonline.com/story/opinion/crossroads/2016/08/18/woodson-take-steps-toward-progress-responsibility-introspection/88960888/

    I appreciate Pastor Kurt’s viewpoints, but at some time the community as a whole (black and white) needs to look at the personal responsibility of the individual and choices he/she makes and factor that into the discussion. May Christ help us all heal and work together to make positive changes.

  9. The greatest commandment is to Love your God with all your heart soul and mind, and the second is Love your neighbor as yourself. We are directed by God and His Word to do this!

  10. Your father instilled fear.
    Fear is never the answer.
    Fear is a garden for the evil one.
    We are fearless.
    Lead by love.
    Love is the answer.

    I see people separating others and themselves by the color of the pigment in their skin. One day it won’t make a difference when we are so mixed that the human race is all the same color. That is the most accelerated here, in this country.

    What a mix of experiences, this generation and prior, we all bring. My family were farmers escaping the Russian army.

    What do you think the black community should be given for reparation?

  11. Pastor Kurt,
    You are my new hero due to your heart for Milwaukee’s entire city. You are my new hero due to your transparency of the pain you have suffered. You are my new hero due to the fact that you have rebuilt a new life. You are my new hero because you want to help those no one else will.
    I am so thankful for your witness friend – and friend of God.

  12. I have prayed for a leader to be risen. A leader who can bridge the divides in Milwaukee. A unique God-center leader who is raw with a fire that burns with passion to build a lasting unity in this city. A leader that “gets it” and can help others “get it”…..I believe the leader has arrived, Pastor Kurt Owens.

    The pastoral staff of Epikos has been blessed with a very special gift

  13. Well, I’ve taken a couple days to let all this soak in. The original impression is still the current impression: Pastor Kurt, You have greatly disappointed me, and many others. When you first came to Epikos and shared your story I told many people what Nick Hansen stated above. However, your response to this lawless, ignorant, and yes, racist event by many in our community saddens me and reminds me why the cycle of hate and violence will never change in the black community. Until a black leader embraces responsibility for actions taken by angry black community members blaming their actions on slavery from generations in the past, things will NOT improve. It sounds like your father did pretty well fighting thru what no doubt was ignorant white people being racist. Sounds also like you’ve done pretty well moving past such issues as well! My main questions for you are:
    1. What exactly do you suggest as a solution? All I hear are excuses…
    2. Why can’t you deliver the message of hope and courage that you (& your father?) have come to know? Injustices have been done. yes. How do we respond NOW to make better lives for ourselves and our children?
    3. Didn’t Jesus say the 2nd most important commandment is to Love our neighbor as ourselves? This is a 2 way street, is it not?
    In summary, my prayer truly is that you will reconsider your approach to this very difficult issue.

    • Hello Dave,
      I appreciate your willingness to share your disappointment in what you view as a less than favorable response to the lawless, ignorant and racist behavior in our community. If I may, I would first like to point out that my response to those events was as follows and I quote:

      “I do not condone violence and I utterly speak against the actions of those rioting. Let me also be clear by saying that I love and respect the white community just as much as I do the black community.  However, I understand the problem is much deeper than the surface that many are looking at. I understand the problem from the inside and to say that I am a bit troubled is an understatement.”

      Subsequently, my intent was to be clear that I did not condone the events of what happened in our city. If I didn’t do a good enough job of that, let me say that I apologize. Let me also point out that the idea behind this blog was simply to debunk the idea that having a dad in the home is the cure all for the black community. As I routinely do in my intimate relationships with my white friends, I attempted to bring understanding by allowing the reader in the mind of a black individual who had a dad in the home.

      I never once condoned my response to my dad’s experiences but I thought it would be helpful to share how his experiences shaped my worldview. I think it is fair to say I am probably not the only one who have been shaped by their parent’s experiences. Let me also say that today, I understand my view was severely limited during that time of my life, but at the time, I only saw the world through the lens of my dad’s experience.

      It was not until I had my own experiences outside of my own community that my worldview began to change. I was blessed to have someone take me underneath their wing and show me a better way in love and deed. Unfortunately, everyone in the black community have not experienced what I have been blessed to experience. Therefore, In response to your question:

      1. What exactly do you suggest as a solution? All I hear are excuses…

      a. My suggestion for a solution is that the Christian community would become a culture of it’s own. What that would mean is our allegiance would be to our body of believers as opposed to our ethnic group. That we would bear the burdens of one another and share in our victories and sorrows together. My prayer is that we will be understanding of one another and less judgemental. My prayer is that the body will be intentional about sharing life with members in the body who are different.

      2. Why can’t you deliver the message of hope and courage that you (& your father?) have come to know? Injustices have been done. yes. How do we respond NOW to make better lives for ourselves and our children?
      a. You are correct! My intent is to deliver a message of hope and courage but also a message of cultural understanding. I live in both cultures every single day and the biggest issue I see between the two is the issue of misunderstanding. I pray that I can help alleviate some of that.
      3. Didn’t Jesus say the 2nd most important commandment is to Love our neighbor as ourselves? This is a 2-way street, is it not?
      a. Again, you are correct! Love for neighbor applies to all of us. As we continue in shared lives with one another my prayer is that we will all apply the 1 Corinthians 13 definition of love to all people.

      In closing, I pray that we can continue to learn from one another and together be the solution.

      Blessings,

    • Danny Parmelee, Lead Pastor

      Dave, so glad that you took a couple days to ponder before responding! I know Kurt already responded but couple thoughts I have. I think that a close look at Kurt’s blog post you will see that #1 He does NOT condone the riots or any sort of behavior like that. #2. He is not saying slavery gives people an excuse to riot or an excuse to not work hard. Having spent a lot of time with Kurt he is just trying to help people to understand that slavery and segregation has had long lasting ripple effects and the solution is never as simple as some suggest. 5 years ago I may have had a similar reaction as you “Slavery & segregation was so long ago its time to move on and take personal responsibility.” I actually did see a lot of leaders in the black community (including Kurt) stand up against the rioting AND deliver a message of hope. This is even what my blog post was about. Kurt concluded by saying” Nevertheless, I am encouraged! In all my years of living in Milwaukee, this was the first time I have seen such a unified community and faith-based response. I saw white and black people of faith being the body of Christ in response to the rioting. I pray this is the beginning. Soon all the cameras will disappear! I pray I live to see black and white people of faith being the body of Christ in response to America’s 300 hundred years of sin committed against the black community. Maybe what I witnessed is the manifestation of a Gospel that includes both a proclamation and a healing touch.” Of course I’m reading Kurt’s post through the lens of the relationship I have with him and so I know his heart and attitude and tone as it deals with race relations. He is constantly working towards understanding, unity, forgiveness, and progress in race relations. Agree or Disagree with what Kurt (or others) had to say I think that this is part of the role as believers that we get to play….having these hard conversations and at the end of the day showing the world that we are united in Christ. We might not diagnose the problem the same, and might even suggest differing solutions….but we desire the same outcome and hopefully that brings us together not drive us apart.

  14. Pastor Owens – I read your blog post on FB a few weeks ago and I’ve wanted to respond ever since. My first response was that perhaps you were a bit dismissive of the white community. Hopefully I am wrong. A great deal of success is in found the white community, maybe we can learn from whoever is successful, black or white. I’ve discovered that success is a choice. The white or black man stuck in poverty doesn’t know how to be successful. If he knew how, he’d be successful. But he lacks the know-how to be successful. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge”. (Hosea 4:6) Anyone who wants to be successful can learn to be successful, but success requires a success-mindset (a way of thinking) and a relevant skill-set. Both must be learned, I know that this is true, I have trained thousands of people to be successful.

    Let me shape my response by saying that I am a brown man raised in the hood in Los Angeles. My dad was a drunk and my mom was “the church lady”. Talk about dysfunction. I know something about being poor. I also know something about being successful. I am a CEO of an entrepreneurial accelerator and venture capital consultancy. rpmstrategic.com & canamke.com. I credit two major forces in my life for whatever success I have. God first, and then my white mentor (I would have preferred a brown man but I was not in position to be choosy.. haha) who helped me assimilate into the success-mindset.

    #1) Once I learned that God was my Father, that He created me after His own image, that He had a plan and purpose for my life, and that nothing could ever stop His plan and purpose for my life except me (if I decided not to participate in His plan). I learned that no person, circumstance or thing could stop me from God’s success for my life. Not being born in the wrong zip code, having brown skin, being poor, the racism, the republicans, the democrats, nothing was impossible for me when my Father is God. When I realized that my Father owned everything, that I was an heir of an inheritance bought by Jesus at the cross, over 6000 biblical promises and truths, that all things were possible and I didn’t have to be poor no more.

    #2) God sent a white man, a rich attorney that taught me a new way of thinking. He was my mentor. He taught me how to assimilate into white society. What I learned was that the way I think determines what I do, and what I do determines my results. If I don’t like my results, I need to be willing to change my thinking, perhaps admitting that my way didn’t work. This meant that I had to park my pride and ego at the door.

    I’ve never met someone who didn’t want to be successful, but most people are looking for an elevator to success, when the reality is you have to climb the stairs. The church is perfectly set up to teach people how to have Godly success. 70 percent of Americans hate their job. 82 percent are living month to month. Something is messed up with these numbers. Here’s a documentary on The American Dream I wrote a few years back: https://youtu.be/UvV4-tYvHGA.

    Pastor, poverty is a choice. It is not a condition of ones bank account; it is a condition of the mind. No one has to live forever in poverty. God has a solution for this. We need to quit putting our trust in the donkey or the elephant and back on the lamb. Success needs to be taught. Poverty and racism might be defining challenges for many of us, but we can’t let them define us. We need to teach the poor how to become successful. They aren’t very good at teaching themselves. If you need some help in this area, email me at gduran@rpmstrategic.com, I’d love to help.

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