This was the question asked by Rev. J. R. Bridgeman, a former Clevelander and now the elder of the Chattanooga District of the African Meth-odist Episcopal Zion Church, at the NAACP of Bradley County Freedom Fund banquet on Friday.
Bridgeman said African-Americans have come a long way in the 150 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50 years since the “I Have a Dream” Speech.
“We’ve come from being spat in, being hosed down. We’ve come from being abused, really just because we wanted to be treated with human dignity,” Bridgeman said.
“We are well-educated now. We live where we want to live. We wear what we want to wear. We drive what we want to drive. We have come a long way but there are still obstacles to acceptance of us by the mainstream society.”
He said the attention of some in the African-American community has turned to selfish gains, “sexuality and prosperity at any cost, and it is tearing us apart.
“We have people in culture who will do anything for a dollar,” Bridgeman said.
The speaker turned to the words of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as he explained how some had left “the faith of our fathers.”
“He (James Weldon Johnson) warned us in that last stanza for our current predicament. He simply says, ‘God of our weary years … God of our silent tears … keep us in the light … lest our feet stray from the places, dear God, where we met thee. Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee.’
“Well, I gotta hit a sad note for you, because, sadly, too many of our feet have strayed — too many of our hearts are drunk,” Bridgeman said.
He said some have even gotten to the point where they will not even talk to another African-American as they pass them on the sidewalk.
Bridgeman emphasized that the African–American community cannot move forward if they continue to buy into the “house-negro and the field-negro syndrome.
“That simply means when the mainstream tells you, ‘You are better than they (other blacks) are. You are smarter than they are. You don’t look like them.’… And some of us are still believing it,” Bridgeman said.
Bridgeman said he remembers sitting in an elected official’s office and being told he was welcome there anytime, but that another African-American was not welcome at all.
“I never shall forget what I did. I took my little folder and folded it up — I hadn’t graduated to my briefcase yet. I had a folder— and I said let me tell you this, ‘If he’s not welcome here then I’m not welcome.’ If we don’t get back to that kind of thinking and quit falling for that ... you black person are better than another black people. We are going to down the drain.”
The solution Bridgeman said was turning back to God.
“The chief cause of our predicament is that we as a people have walked away from God,” Bridgeman said. “The huge number of African-Americans in this United States of America, who somehow think that they can do anything without God is absolutely mind-boggling to me.”
Bridgeman said “it’s not too late” if a return to “the God of our fathers is made.”
He said the African Christians of history, the slaves who were Christians and African- American Christians who worked to support their families when many jobs were closed to them can be seen as fathers of modern day African–Americans.
“Those of us who have discovered the power of a life-changing relationship with Jesus and who see the need for spiritual transformation in our community must band together to build a new future,” Bridgeman said.
He said a focus needs to be put on turning back to faith and providing a good example to younger people.
“Jesus is central to our rich heritage … We can honor the memory of our forbearers by rediscovering the faith that allowed them to survive,” Bridgeman said.
He said opportunities and hope need to be given young people to give them reasons to be successful, find faith and resist temptations.
“There is hope,” Bridgeman said.