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Theology Thursdays: Hurricane Katrina, A Motivating Force And Breath Of Life by Cedric Muhammad (September 4, 2005)


This past Saturday, after attending the touching funeral of political economist Jude Wanniski, something crystallized for me. It happened while I was on the road, listening to my Brother, by telephone, update me on the latest developments surrounding the human suffering and devastation related to Hurricane Katrina. While listening to him re-cap and recount news as he provided his own insightful analysis and shared with me his view of the significance of certain events - President Bush’s visit to the Gulf Region; Kanye West’s remarks during an NBC special; the controversial interview of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin; the offers of assistance extended from Black Mayors John Street (of Philadelphia) and Kwame Kilpatrick (of Detroit); and even the passionate arguments and exasperation of Fox News’ Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera, expressed on behalf of the suffering and desperate – it began to form in my mind that Hurricane Katrina, its impact, its timing, and the reactions and political response to it, were facilitating unity and a form of Black nationalism that was purer and potentially more potent than that which many have tried to construct through ideology, theology and activism.

The manner and clarity in which my Brother was describing the activity, rhetoric and mobilization of Black political leaders, in particular, demonstrated to me that Black people’s intense response – particularly to the pain and suffering of other Blacks – was a sign that they were moving beyond the relatively narrow confines of religion, ideology, government dependency, partisanship and geography in order to identify with one another and unite to find solutions on the most basic and human of levels.

This realization has increasingly occurred to me over the last week and there were several incidents and examples that fueled my growing belief. Saving a full explanation for now, there were particular developments that convinced me of this: a careful listening of Mayor Ray Nagin’s interview on WWL-AM; Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s powerful statement on the hurricane including her "adoption" of Baton Rouge’s Mosque # 46; the support that Mayor Ray Nagin is receiving from his fellow Black mayors; reaction on the Internet among Blacks regarding the photos that depict Blacks as "looting" while Whites are "finding" or discovering; the stance of the Congressional Black Caucus; the immediate response of the Hip-Hop community to provide assistance to victims; and the righteous ‘competition’ between NFL pro athletes Deion Sanders and Warrick Dunn challenging their peers to make a donation, from their riches, and quickly.

Recalling some things I have learned from broadly studying the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad; and more narrowly, the speeches of Minister Louis Farrakhan and the writings of theologian Minister Jabril Muhammad - as my Brother spoke to me by phone - I began to think over parts of the 37th Chapter of the book of Ezekiel, which I had already been weighing juxtaposed to the events of Hurricane Katrina (since then other portions of the scriptures have powerfully come to mind.) I mentioned to him, that according to the book of Ezekiel, it was not the Son of Man’s prophesying unto the bones (people) that revived the dry bones in the valley. But rather, it was, his prophesying unto the winds that caused the bones to have the breath of life enter into them leading them into standing on their feet, as an "exceedingly great army". As we spoke, my Brother grabbed a Bible and began to read from the 37th chapter. I asked him to focus on just the first 14 verses. When he got to verse 9 which reads "Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live", he paused, and mentioned that the four winds that the Son of Man is described as calling on, made him think of the fact that Hurricane Katrina was a Category four Hurricane. Don’t worry, we did not go any further into the numerology (smile.)

But we did briefly discuss certain aspects of the apparent void in, or lack of influence of Black leadership, due to internal and external forces, which have been exposed, and brought to light, maybe more than ever, by Hurricane Katrina. We both confidently agreed that the early reaction and attitude of many Black people and much of their leadership, to Katrina, was emerging evidence of a paradigm shift in Black leadership and among the people. I told my Brother that Hurricane Katrina and the failure of government (local, sate and federal) to ‘save’ many was showing the misplaced priority and emphasis Blacks have placed on political ideology and government, and this, I commented, would contribute to a greater and deeper belief in and reliance on the individual self, the collective self (community and people) and whatever higher power or Supreme Being they might claim or accept. Hurricane Katrina, before it is all said and done, we agreed, would prove to be a great motivating force for Black people.

That forty-minute conversation on Saturday made me think deeper about my recent appearance on the Star and Buc Wild morning program. On Tuesday, August 23rd, the show’s host Star, kindly invited me to appear as a guest on his show, along with Sister Shaharazad Ali, to discuss the topic he had selected, "Is There a Black Economy?" Star said his topic was inspired, in part, by his most recent visit to Harlem and his observations about the bootlegging of DVDs, specifically those of popular Writer and Director, Tyler Perry. Our on-air ‘conference call’ discussion lasted for about 45 minutes and we covered a lot of ground and discussed the conditions, ideologies, personalities and dynamics that give a negative and affirmative answer to the question posed.

In the final segment of the program, Star specifically gave me the charge of identifying solutions to the problems which had been previously discussed. I was grateful and honored to accept the responsibility and the question. I first told Star and the audience that there were a few things that I could suggest. And first, I recognized and thanked President George W. Bush explaining that I felt he was doing his job and that his leadership, decision-making, and ruining of the American economy would prove to be a motivating force that would cause Blacks to do for themselves, what they could and should have been doing all along. Star indicated his understanding of the principle of my point, as he and I share the view that Blacks have made the most progress economically under the most difficult circumstances when there were powerful external ‘enemies’, barriers, and opposition present, serving as motivating factors. Star, in the past has pointed to the Jim Crow era and segregation as an example. After I put forth two other ‘solutions’ I concluded by offering the Millions More Movement as an opportunity to solve our economic problems. I encouraged Star to continue to be critical of the Millions More Movement and to challenge it - as he and the show have been during this year - as I stressed that it is strong criticism and encouragement that will make the MMM be what it advertises to be, needs to be, and what our people deserve it to be. Hurricane Katrina presents an opportunity for the Millions More Movement and all Black people to make an affirmative statement about ourselves, our dignity and our ability - in unity - to independently solve problems and force others to deal with us and handle us with respect. This disaster is a quintessential moment for atonement, reconciliation, responsibility and action. It is both destructive and constructive in nature.

In the coming days, many commentators, experts, analysts, opinion leaders, and others will continue to attempt to explain, interpret for, and guide Black America regarding the significance of Hurricane Katrina and the appropriate response(s). Some will advocate for status quo, others reform, and still more, for radical change. A few will advocate for all three.

I think the Hurricane and its aftermath speak for itself, an event that comes with its own self-evident interpretation.

It is time for Black America to bet on ‘new’ ideas and some that are so old and forgotten that they might appear to be new. I suggest self-analysis, candid dialogue, operational unity, and a new commitment to take responsibility for our own condition– economically, politically, and culturally, as a good starting point.

If we begin there, with each passing day, for the living, Katrina will prove to be more of a blessing than a curse. And the suffering and deaths involved will not only appear to be a tragedy, but increasingly, a redemptive sacrifice, made for the benefit of an entire people.

A people, who may finally be ready to stand as an exceedingly great army.


Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, August 31, 2006

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