The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Prayer Breakfast
On Saturday September 29, 2001, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) hosted its annual prayer breakfast at the Washington D.C. Convention Center. The event which has been a staple of the Congressional Black Caucus’(CBC) annual legislative conference, brings together conference participants with political and religious leaders from across the country for a morning of celebration, reflection and spiritual renewal. This year’s prayer breakfast was especially anticipated in light of the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The event began with prayer, introductory remarks from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and a musical selection by Kurt Carr & the Kurt Carr Singers, who performed periodically throughout the program.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Chakah Fatah (D-PA), provided a very brief account of how it had been decided to continue with plans for the CBC’s legislative conference in the aftermath of the September 11th attack, as well as in an environment of doubt created by the numerous decisions, made by various organizations and political groups, to cancel their conferences and conventions. Rep. Fatah credited Rep. William Jefferson as responsible for pushing the conference forward despite the obstacles and difficulties, which accompanied conference planning and organization.
CBC Chair Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in her remarks, quoted from the sixth chapter and twelfth verse of the book of Ephesians which reads:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Rep. Johnson went on to reveal that the CBC had acquired extra security for its conference; that bomb sweeps had been performed throughout the convention center; and that the CBC had checked with Washington D.C. police in reference to threats made against them and the convention center. But in spite of all of that, Rep. Johnson stressed that the truth of what is written in the scriptures would hold true that, “no weapon formed against the righteous would prosper”.
In his remarks to those gathered, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Ms.), the Chair of the CBC’s 31st annual legislative conference, firmly stated that in deciding to move forward with the conference, “ we decided that we would not let the terrorists succeed”. He proudly announced to the audience that the CBC convention was the 1st major convention to have been held in Washington D.C. since the attack.
After a $50,000 check was presented to the CBCF by the prayer breakfast’s exclusive corporate sponsor, Coca-Cola, the presence of Coretta Scott King, Dorothy Height and other luminaries in attendance was acknowledged.
A prayer for the nation was offered and led by Rev. Dr. Leonard N. Smith, Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church of Arlington, Virginia. In the prayer, Rev. Smith offered : “ The fabric of the nation has been entangled in fear. We thought that we were safe in America but somehow we forgot that the only safe place is in You...we hurt because we have watched the innocent slaughtered. Our enemies have tried to bring us to our knees but we are thankful, for that has only put us in a position to pray...”
Rev. Smith added that some unusual good has come from the tragedy, “God, only You could have caused an outlawed act called prayer to ring out in every school house.” And the Reverend also prayed for the members of Congress, “ Grant the lawmakers with wisdom beyond their imagination...and sound judgment and relief from personal bias and hidden agendas”.
Rev. Smith concluded the prayer by saying, “ We recognize that America is not what she ought to be but God, please bless America.”
The keynote message was provided by Bishop Larry D. Trotter, Pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Full Gospel Baptist Church of Chicago, Illinois. Bishop Trotter was the first to lead a delegation of Black bishops to meet with the current Pope John Paul II.
Bishop Trotter began by quoting from the book of Psalms 11 verses 1,2,3, which reads:
1 In the LORD put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?
2 For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations be destroyed, what must the righteous do?
Bishop Trotter asked all of those in attendance to focus on the third verse, “ If the foundations be destroyed what must the righteous do?”
Bishop Trotter stated, “ I am not here to make light of the present circumstance but my assignment is not to talk about Osama Bin Laden...or to ask anyone to light another candle.”
Bishop Trotter then stated that the question is no longer “If the foundations be destroyed...” but rather “Since the foundations were destroyed?” Bishop Trotter explained, “ We have known terrorists for years but they were living in the high big house, they raped our women and enslaved us. The foundations are still being destroyed.”
Bishop Trotter then weaved a social commentary into his message to make clear how “the foundations have been destroyed”. The Bishop stated:
” We used to have hard-working men and pretty women. Now we have pretty men and hard-working women, something has changed...We didn’t always have coca-cola but we used to have something called Kool-Aid; We couldn’t afford pizza so we took government cheese, put it on bread, and stuck it in the oven...We have taller buildings and shorter tempers. We have wider freeways, but more narrow points of view. We have more degrees and less sense. We have more medicine and less healthcare. We have multiplied our possessions and have too little values. We’ve conquered outerspace but have little inner peace. We have split the atom but haven’t conquered prejudice. These are the times of fast-food but short digestion. We have two incomes but broken homes. We have much in the show room but nothing in the stock room...The foundations have been destroyed.”
Bishop Trotter stated that everyone now must focus on action. The Bishop outlined three steps that should be taken.
First, the Bishop stated, everyone who has been scared by the terrorist attack must realize that God is in charge, “God has put the Sun out in the universe and it has been blazing ever since. He put sweetness in the peach and sour in the lemon and they remain today. You used to always feel better when you knew that Daddy was home. Well, I am here to tell you that Daddy is home – God is still on the throne and He is in charge!”
The second step the Bishop outlined was that everyone must complete their assignment, “ The bottom has dropped out of this country and the foundations would be worse than they are had we not had people who completed their assignment.” The Bishop then explained that in their own areas, Harriet Tubman, Harold Washington and Rev. Jesse Jackson were all people who had completed their assignment in the midst of crises.
The Bishop added, “ The assignment is not to hide somewhere or to wave flags or light a candle. We can’t just stop our assignment (for that). The Congressional Black Caucus had to move on. (and continue its work)...The righteous must know that God is still in charge.”
The third action, according to the Bishop, is the continuation of belief. “ We must keep believing, Prayer does change things. (In spite of what happened on September 11th) I still believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, that Jesus turned water to wine...that Jesus walked on water...and that the Lord was raised from the dead. I still see and believe in the future (that God has promised) and things are looking a whole lot better”
The Bishop concluded his remarks by telling the CBC and the audience that in the midst of this crisis a unique opportunity had been created and that it was their time to assume a more prominent leadership role.
His message concluded with thunderous applause.
Note: The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc.(CBCF) is a nonprofit public policy, research and educational institute founded in 1976 by Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, their spouses and corporate partners. Its mission is to assist the leaders of today, while helping to inspire and prepare new generations of leaders for tomorrow and also to inspire African American citizens to get involved in the political and public policy process. The CBCF Foundation fulfills its mission in leadership development by providing young people access to financial support, internships, fellowships and professional experience working for members of Congress or for Congressional Committees or subcommittees.
Sunday, September 30, 2001