By Kathleen Sweeney, Outreach Department
African-American pro-life leaders are getting ready for a pro-life "rising up" in their communities. During two workshops at the NRL Convention, a panel of these leaders spoke to the need for a united, impassioned determination to educate and activate African-American communities on life issues.
There is "a louder buzz" of the pro-life movement in black communities, asserted Rev. Cesar LeFlore, "but nothing like the roar that's coming!" Rev. LeFlore, who is founder and president of PowerLight Ministries in Chicago and minority outreach director for the Illinois Federation for Right to Life, said the African-American community has "a tradition of rising up" on issues of justice, but these communities are not yet aware enough of what damage legalized abortion does to their people.
In the first workshop, entitled "How to Reach the African-American Community," Rev. LeFlore was joined on the panel by Rev. Gregory Banks and Fr. John Raphael, SSJ. Rev. Banks, a Baptist pastor who has responded to the call to full-time pro-life ministry in Texarkana, Texas, expressed concern about the misinformation in Black communities and the failure of pastors to communicate a pro-life message.
He and his wife Kimberly are forming a Black Americans for Life chapter in Texarkana. Rev. Banks ministers to young African-American men, teaching them how to be good fathers and encouraging them to marry. He sponsors a pro-life outreach entitled "Each One--Reach One," which hopes to reach black churches with the message, "Stop Black Genocide--Save Our Black Babies."
"Pastors need to deal with the needs of their people [regarding] the effects of abortion," Rev Banks said. Too often the pro-life/"pro-choice" decision is framed as politics and "Republican," which is considered by many as "a sell-out," whereas they need to see this as a life issue, a whole Bible issue, he explained.
Fr. Raphael, a Josephite priest from New Orleans and recently a chaplain at Howard University in Washington, D.C., emphasized the need for more pro-life literature that targets African-Americans. "Let the community speak to itself," he suggested. The community and the pastor need to support each other and be on the same page on the pro-life issues, the panel members agreed. The misunderstanding that results from the use of labels must be addressed. Fear and indifference are stifling the message African-Americans need to hear about the consequences of legalized abortion.
Rev. LeFlore urged pro-lifers to unite as a whole faith community and to approach the life issues as issues of faith. When black and white pro-lifers see each other as brothers and sisters in a struggle to affirm life, and can relate on several levels, then pro-life concerns can be seen in the context of love and inclusion.
The second workshop, "The Effects of Abortion in the Black Community," highlighted the need for more crisis pregnancy centers in urban African-American communities. Rev. Janine Simpson of CareNet said that abortion clinics in many Black neighborhoods are often viewed as "friends who are there for us in our need." Rev. Simpson pointed out that this is so because there are not enough crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) present in these areas.
The ratio of abortion clinics to CPCs in Black neighborhoods is 7-0 in Atlanta, 9-2 in Philadelphia, and 11-2 in Washington, D.C., she revealed. Most urban areas have similar ratios, she indicated. She urged the pro-life audience to find more CPC directors and more Black women who are willing to work in CPCs - - since African-American women coming to a clinic need that connection.
"The pro-life movement is like a three-legged stool," Rev. Simpson explained. The three legs are CPCs, pro-life action, and legislative/political efforts. If any one of these legs is missing, the pro-life "chair" will collapse, she concluded.
Kimberly Banks, who is executive director of First Choice Pregnancy Resource Center, said that of the some 1,000 women coming to the center, ranging in age from 12 years to 50 years, the majority are African-American. In a moving story about a woman named Mary, whom she called almost every day until the young woman finally decided against having an abortion, Mrs. Banks related how important it is to "stay in their life." The center also sponsors a candlelight prayer service. The outreach work she and her husband do gets them on local TV and in the local press.
Day Gardner, director of Black Americans for Life (BAL) and chair of the two workshops, has organized a Coalition of Black Women who will be joining together to make the voice of pro-life Black women heard. During Black History Month, for example, several women of the coalition presented their pro-life message on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. They have also sent a letter to the NAACP protesting that organization's adoption of a pro-abortion position - - an action that sparked press interviews for Gardner. BAL is currently sponsoring a new 60-second radio spot which is available for groups to use as a PSA (public service announcement) on family radio. BAL's quarterly newsletter and various brochures are also tools that can be included to "plant seeds" of awareness in Black communities.
In addition to the workshops, Black Americans for Life sponsored a dinner at NRLC's convention which featured Tony Award-winning singer/actress Melba Moore. Ms. Moore was the first black female to sing the lead role of Fantine in Les Miserables. She recently was co-star in the gospel comedy film The Fighting Temptations, and is about to begin a European tour of Your Arms Too Short to Box With God. She formerly starred in her own television show, The Melba Moore/Clifton Davis Show. She continually tours in her one-woman show, Sweet Songs of the Soul, and performs in concert in major performance arts centers.
Ms. Moore has joined the Coalition of Black Women in giving pro-life witness to the tragic effects of abortion for women. At the dinner, she held attendees spellbound with her beautiful and dramatic voice in a medley of songs, and gave a moving testimony about her post-abortion struggle and final victory. Dinner guests were also treated to a stimulating speech by Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a former president of NRLC.