Bishop Larry Trotter sent on his behalf the perfect emissary to represent the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ at Saviours’ Day 2005–the passionate Bishop Travis Grant, who serves as the National Chief-of-Staff for the international organization. He is the Suffragan Bishop, or in corporate terms, the chief operating officer. Praising the Lord, embracing the brotherhood and bringing the audience to its feet with his electrifying spirit, he quoted from the Bible what sums up the growing momentum for the 10th Anniversary of the Million Man MarchTM: “How beautiful it is when Brothers can dwell together in unity, it is like the oil on Aaron’s head, that not only drips down on his beard, but down into his very skirts.”
The fiery bishop spoke with Final Call Managing Editor Dora Muhammad to expound on his inspiring remarks and discuss the role of Christian-Muslim unity in the mobilization and agenda leading up to and beyond October 16, 2005.
Final Call (FC): You mentioned that the time is critical for unity. What do you see that’s critical about the time?
Bishop Travis Grant (TG): When we look at the economic, social and political challenges our people are facing, our people are literally dying on every front. The fight that we used to have seems to be waning. Whether it is the countless thousands who are dying across the world from AIDS, or the political process being usurped and corrupted by the powers-that-be, or the social ills that our people are facing, the hour is of such that many of the gains that we accomplished from the early ’70s until now are literally being turned back. Our people are ever increasingly under the pressure of the powers-that-be to literally enslave the minds and spirits of our people, which really leads to this critical hour that I believe that we’re in.
FC: You mentioned that we were spiritually killing ourselves as a religious community because of our divisions, and in order for us to ask the gangs to put down their divisions, we must set the example and put down our divisions. Do you see a certain sense of that same type of waning of the spirit as a religious community that has affected our people?
TG: Absolutely, Sister. I believe that the re-awakening of our people, this great giant that has been asleep for the past 25 years or more, the turning point seemingly of the Civil Rights Movement was possibly at the point where Dr. Martin Luther King was reaching beyond Christian corners and arenas into places where traditionally, African American leadership had never reached. He was less popular among pro-Civil Rights leaders because he was reaching beyond us, into these venues to touch and agree with Brothers and Sisters of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as Brothers and Sisters in our community who had very philosophical differences.
Our challenge has always been what would happen if our people could come together. The African American faith community is the most separate entity within our community. Our Brothers and Sisters in the hip hop community are teaching us a powerful lesson, because though it is on the basis of not philosophy, but rather economics, they at least find ways to constructively complement each other with their craft and art. However, within the African American community, we have different sects of Baptists, Pentecostalism, Metho-dists and Muslims, not to add our Socialists and Agnostic Brothers and Sisters.
Yet, this diverse community is the community that carries a moral authority. The hip hop community is waiting for us to do what they’re trying to do and they cannot do it without the faith community in the African American community. Every substantive movement, be it the tearing down of colonialism in Africa or the dismantling of Communism in Europe, has at its epicenter a combination of moral faith leaders who, in essence, put down their religious differences, and merged their political common ground for one purpose.
We are in the genesis of that opportunity to say, not a one of us–be it Christian, Muslim, Socialist, Nationalist–are altogether saving our people. In our quest to save our people, we further create fractions within our people and polarize our particular groups. When opportunities for us to come together are presented, we are so alienated, angry and envious of each other in our own ignorance that the enemy can simply pull back and watch us kill each other on who has the biggest God, the biggest book. Hundreds and thousands of our people are enslaved and, more than that, they are the casualties of our religious wars. We ask our Brothers and Sisters in the street organizations to put down their weapons, but we ought to put down our weapons, because we have done more to kill each other spiritually than they’ve done to kill us physically.
FC: How do we, as a faith community, begin to heal those spiritual wounds resulting from our divisions?
TG: We have to be brave enough and courageous enough. We brought Brothers from all over the country to meet with Minister Farrakhan, so we could go in his home to begin that process of dialogue. Our Bible teaches us, “In all of our getting, get an understanding.” Our Bible says a friend will stick closer than a Brother. Minister Farrakhan has not only been a Brother, but he’s been a friend to our community. Many of our Brothers have seen Minister Farrakhan through the lens and eyes of people who want to misinterpret and misrepresent his words, spirit and heart. It takes a new breed of leadership that will be bold enough to stand with the Brother, as we did on Saviours’ Day, to stand with Brothers and Sisters and say, “We respect the fact that you believe in Allah and we’re asking that you respect the fact that we believe in Jesus, and the two of us can do more together.”
Our Bible teaches us that a three-fold cord is stronger than a single cord and our togetherness is the greatest weapon of mass construction for our people. So, we have to be bold, courageous and tolerant enough to allow all of us to believe whatever we believe, and let there be an exchange of truth, ideas, philosophy and belief. A tremendous segment of our community loves Minister Farrakhan, but does not have an understanding of Islam. They love our Christian Brothers and do not have a true understanding of what all of us believe. We could all do a great service to our community in putting down our differences and highlighting our similarities and common ground, and allowing our people the freedom and right to choose whatever they want to believe.
All of us have to substantively agree that anybody with any faith in God, whether it be God, Allah, Jesus or the Methodist or Pentecostal or Catholic, faith is better than no faith; a belief is better than no belief. In that constructive context, our people have more to gain than to lose. So it takes courage, it takes boldness, it takes bravery and it takes some tolerance and some acceptance to say to our Muslim Brothers and our Christian Brothers that, “I respect you. I respect what you believe. Now let’s get on with the business of building our community.”
We talked to the Minister in Phoenix about a new definition of community development. When people come into the Black community for community development, the banker, capitalist, construction person, finance person and developer all sit down and create partnerships. The liquor store has a partnership, as well as the beauty shop. All of these persons have a partnership centered on the fact that they want to do one thing–make money. They don’t care if it’s the Arab Brother or Jewish Brother. They don’t care if you pray three times a day, five times a day, or not at all. The bottom line is, when they sit at the table, “How can we come into the Black community and make money off these people?”
We have yet to do that. We have yet to sit down with our Muslim Brothers, Pentecostal Brothers, Christian Brothers, and whomever and say, “Let’s sit down at the table, Brothers and Sisters, and let’s rebuild our community. Let’s be about the business of community development.” That’s a phenomenal challenge and it can be done. We’re willing to do whatever it takes to see that it does indeed come to pass.
FC: At Saviours’ Day, you quoted from the Bible, saying it mentioned not one prophet, but a school of prophets and a gathering of apostles who have authority to call the things that are not, as though they were. Can you expound on the meaning of that scripture?
TG: Our Bible tells us that it is given unto us to know the mysteries of God. Paul the Apostle says that God gave some apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, and some for the protecting of the saints until we all come into the bond of unity. It is ordained of God that leadership be imparted and implanted in the earth to bring about an unbreakable circle of people in the earth who are bonded together, and bound together in a unity that cannot be destroyed, cannot be bought, cannot be politicized, cannot be diluted. It is going to take Brothers and Sisters of that mindset who understand that call in the earth that God gave some–He did not give a lot–until the entire family of God is brought into this bond of unity.
We believe in the thesis of Minister Farrakhan, that our unity is the strongest asset and the most stringent weapon we can have to address the ills of our people. President George Bush said that he went into the war on Iraq with a coalition. We believe God has a coalition. God has a coalition of godly men and women who already have it within their spirit and mind that they are called for one purpose and one purpose only–and that is for the unification of our people.
FC: Although you spoke about a bond of unity that cannot be destroyed, sometimes it’s very disheartening as a follower of the Minister, when people have that desire to support the unity, but when forces come against that unity and threaten perhaps to cut off funding or threaten non-support, they back away. So, how do we really hold on to that unity in the faith and resist those forces that have worked so hard to keep us divided?
TG: Our Bible teaches us that we walk by faith and not by sight. Not only do we walk by faith and not by sight, but we walk by spirit and not according to the flesh, because the spirit and the flesh are always in a constant war against each other. If we don’t come into this understanding that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but spiritual wickedness in high places, then we are going to encounter the discouragement, persecution and attacks from those who would do the work of iniquity and wickedness against us, if we don’t anticipate and expect that.
Jesus says, “You will be persecuted for my name’s sake, but be of good cheer. I have overcome this world.” In other words, we, too, Sister, can overcome this world. That’s a great challenge because we have a great work that’s yet ahead of us and those that see us coming together are going to do whatever they can do to infiltrate, subvert and sabotage what we do. We have to be keenly aware of that and be ready for that. David was a great warrior and David’s greatest concern was that of his family and nation. When he was given the assignment by his father to go and feed his brother and he got to the frontlines and saw his own brothers hiding behind rocks from this giant called Goliath, he was insulted. He inquired and his own brothers turned against him. David’s response was, “Is there not a cause?” His response was to the degree that, “I have come down here to serve you. I have come down here as your servant and I want to know, is there not a cause?”
Our challenge has to be that when we stand with the Minister and others of our leaders, we have to always be reminded of the cause. David’s desire was that his people would be free from the enemies in the land and he was yet willing to put his life on the line. This has to be an all or nothing proposition. That is how I deal with the discouragement or the attacks every day. It’s an all or nothing. We have to be fueled by the cause that is greater than any discouragement, any individual, any personality, any form of persecution, because those of us who are young Christians and young Muslims and young Believers as a whole, are the quest, and the cause and salvation of our people has been, literally, placed on our shoulders.
FC: How do you see the relevance of the Million Man MarchTM in 2005 and beyond?
TG: The relevance of the Million Man MarchTM is not in just the gathering of millions in Washington, D.C., but in impacting millions around the world. Many of our Brothers and Sisters in Africa, the Caribbean, London will see the Million Man MarchTM via television, the Web and satellite. We have to make a decision on whether we want to attract millions or impact millions. The relevance of the Million Man MarchTM, 10 years later, is how we chart and strategize a plan and an agenda that is not just good for some of our people, but good for all of our people, to the degree that we impact millions, bring about a substantive change in the Americas, on the continent of Africa, in the Caribbean, Latin America and other places around the world where people of color are in the same struggle for freedom and equality of life.
We have over a million Brothers and Sisters who are HIV-positive and are literally dying from this biological form of warfare. We have Brothers and Sisters who are locked up in prisons. The fastest growing population of prisoners is Black Sisters and when they lock these Sisters up, they separate these Sisters form their children. There’s almost a million children now in the United States who are in some form of state or foster care, where they are being sold on the black market. It’s a whole new level of slavery. Our school system has developed a zero tolerance policy where they’re no longer faced with a challenge of modifying an educational system to meet the needs of a culture and society that is spinning rapidly away from traditional, conventional education. While our children can rap, dance and rhyme, they cannot read, add or reason.
So, we have to challenge ourselves that the Million Man MarchTM in October will not become a once in a lifetime event, where we reminisce, as we do with the Dr. King “I have a dream” speech. We reminisce about the dream and our people are living a nightmare. We have to make a decision that we’re going to take the Million Man MarchTM and have a substantive strategy that will go, not just 10 years out, but perhaps 20 years out. In 20 years, who will we turn this world over to? Who will we turn our gains and successes over to?
We are in the position of having to beg for the benevolence of a politician who would not be in office if it weren’t for the Black vote, to ask them, “Please, please, please re-enact the Voting Rights Act. Please re-enact the Civil Rights Act. Please vote it back into law.” So, we’re back in a position where, instead of us being power brokers, we’re begging for power and the Million Man MarchTM has to do more than give us a good feeling, good speeches, a great moment and, we have work to do. Africa is waiting on us. The Caribbean is waiting on us. Brazil and Central America are waiting on us. Brothers and Sisters in the United States are but 12 million, but they are three times as many people of color all around the world, who are literally waiting on us to make a decision, so that they can say they are indeed with us. That is what is at stake now.
FC: What specific edification can you give to those who may be uncertain of participating and supporting the Million Man MarchTM this year, because of whatever reservations they had back in ’95?
TG: The Minister’s efforts to reach out to all segments of the faith community needs to be taken seriously. We need to accept his sincerity and desire to reach out to all segments of our community this time around. Brothers and Sisters who had reservations 10 years ago have to ask themselves, did their reservations lead to a better resolve to the ills of our people? I don’t have a problem with a Brother or Sister disagreeing with me. I do have a problem when your disagreement doesn’t do us any good or any justice. Tell me that the penicillin is going to be better for me; don’t tell me you don’t like the way it tastes.
Those Brothers and Sisters who had reservations 10 years ago have to ask themselves, “Are we better or are we worse?” If we are worse, or even if we are the same, they have to ask themselves, “Do we stay where we are or do we take a chance on moving ahead?” Our challenge has to be to those Brothers and Sisters to at least come to the table and discuss the opportunity of our unity. At least the dialogue is a start to reaching a common ground where we can all say, “I can agree with our Brothers and Sisters on this one point.”
But just one tenet of the Million Man MarchTM is worth all of us standing together on one tenet than us remaining separate on the other nine.
FC: What role will the Pentecostal church play in the mobilization effort?
TG: One decision we have made is to remain at the table in the course of dialogue with the Minister and the Nation for the purpose in participating in the development of the strategy. When you look at a photograph, you look for your reflection, or you look for someone who looks like you that you can identify with. The Million Man MarchTM has the potential to represent and reflect all of us. Unless we sit at the table during the dialogue, development and strategy process, we cannot ensure that there is a true reflection of all of us when we look at that picture in October. From the dialogue and development, all of us can make decisions on what directives and directions we all want to take to achieve this.
I think the Minister’s efforts in reaching out to the African American Christian community and saying to these Brothers and Sisters who are their leaders, asking them to come to the table, admitting to the fact that we all have made some mistakes and missteps and, thereby, is required that we come to the table for there to be a true atonement amongst our leadership. Our leaders have to have a sense of atonement and forgiveness, and that forgiveness can lead to an agreement. We have welcomed the opportunity that we have had to share with the Minister. Above all, we love Minister Farrakhan. He has been a Brother and more than a Brother, he has been a friend. We’re going to continue to build this bridge, so that all of our people can make it to where God would have them to be.
FC: Thank you.