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By Hamil R. Harris
The leaders of the three major African American Methodist denominations concluded a “historic,” three-day meeting in Columbia, S.C., Wednesday where they discussed the plight of black males and some of the other major problems plaguing members in their churches.
More than 6,500 people attended “The Great Gathering,” that was convened by Bishop John R. Bryant of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Bishop W.C. Walker of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Bishop William H. Graves of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Collectively they represent more than 5 million members.
“The state and Condition of the African American Male” was a central theme at the conference that began with a video message from President Obama, who articulated some of the other themes of the conference including the fact many children are growing up without adequate support and parents because “Too many fathers are no where to be found.”
Bishop Walker said the meeting marks the beginning of a new cooperative effort to deal with old problems in the African American community. “The Great Gathering was one of the greatest meetings that I have been part of in my 51 years of ministry,” Walker said in an interview. “People are charged and ready to establish initiatives that all three denominations can work on together.”
Walker is calling for local churches to create “Saturday Academies,” where young people could come for tutoring in English, math and science. Another program idea is a “Prison Prevention Program” that would be designed to help young men be involved in activities before they ever get into trouble.
The joint conference, entitled “Hearing Gods Call: Hearing and Empowering Our Communities,” featured a number of speakers including Marian Wright Eldeman of the Children’s Defense Fund, Princeton Professor Cornel West, and author and educator Jawanza Kunjufu. Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also spoke.
While the AME Zion, AME and CME churches have long records in confronting social justice issues, Walker said the churches have to do more collectively. “The church is constantly seeking ways in meeting the present issues of our people in terms of social justice, economic development and health education.”