Last Monday we spoke with John Perkins about reconciliation, inherited dignity and why, at 83 years of age, he doesn’t get a lot of sleep. Today he shares more…
Last week you talked about black folks who experience success and move on to a “better” community. What message do you want to communicate to these individuals?
I would like to communicate the idea that real justice is an economic issue and the best way towards that is personal work ethic and business development. Because foreigners are providing basic goods and services we cannot have full employment in our communities. These business owners understand the value of business in the black community, but they are not also contributing to the success of those communities. What we need black community leaders to understand is that if people in the community owned those businesses, we would be at or near full employment in those areas. These leaders communicate about getting a job, being employees, but business ownership and investment in the community is not a part of that message. We have seen Chinese and other Asian business owners recognize the opportunity in urban business. When they have the opportunity to start a business, they go in and take those economic opportunities. There have been a few successful blacks who have returned to the community to reinvest. Magic Johnson stands out as a pioneer in that way.
So the real core of you message is…?
The message should really be return to the community. Find ways to provide business development, credit unions, and banks that are open to forming relationships that reinvest in the community. We need blacks to see those economic opportunities and realize not only the economic benefit to the owners, but for the success of the community. In many cities, the Hispanic and Asian populations are doing it better than us. Other minorities are doing it, but here in the black community, we are still trying to get to that point.
Does the burden for transformation fall on these accomplished young people, or are there ways that the rest of us can support and encourage them?
Again I would return to the idea of the multiethnic congregation. In this forum individuals are interacting with each other on a personal level, engaging them in their struggles. The friendships and relationships create a mutual desire to assist each other. You can find this even outside of that type of congregation, but the relationship is key. There ought to be a burden on us all to be peacemakers. We struggle with problems of greed and competition that often hinder us from forming those relationships or maintaining them. Christians of all stripes need to see poverty and economic disadvantage. It is bigger than relief work and benevolence are going to be able to accomplish. It will take hard work and investment to bring about the justice we are talking about because at the heart of justice, there is a stewardship and economic issue. This is something the whole church should be participating in.
There is a lot of amazing work happening at the Spencer Perkins Center. Is there a single initiative about which you’re most enthused right now?
Of course, what’s happening at SPC right now is a changing of the guards. There is new leadership emerging and I am being very careful not to sink them and get them digging out of the vision I have. I hope they keep the same principles, but I think these new developments are their own. I think the new leadership sees it this way and they like attempting to put their own style into the ministry. I am encouraging that. One exciting aspect of this is the plan to tie a multiethnic and vibrant church to the Spencer Perkins Center. It goes back to that ideal vision for community change, the small and motivated church model. We are working with several churches in our community to create an overlapping web across this city. This will create a dynamic environment where these small churches and organizations can assist and encourage each other.
So what will that look like?
One of our goals in this project is to bring in former inmates and surround them as they begin their difficult return to the community. One of the best examples of this is the Hope House in Lawndale, Chicago. That is a real model for redemption and reform. For the first time, many will have a home of their own and they are taught to attack it with a sense of responsibility rather than moving into a group home that they plan to leave when they get enough resources. These individuals coming out of the prison system and into a strong community model have the opportunity to make a great impact when they submit themselves to God’s path. So our goal, here in Jackson, is to bring that idea into our community church model so we can keep inmates from going back into the prisons. Those are just a few things we have been thinking together and the new leadership is taking on these projects with excitement. You can see more about the work we’re doing now at spencerperkinscenter.org.
Are there any other initiatives in urban areas that you find innovative or promising?
The entire CCDA network has really grown and now we have this really amazing hub of principles and ideas that are operating in most major cities in the U.S. Before CCDA, some people had been practicing these ideas, but this organization has really created a philosophy of inner-city missions and this organization was the first to give a voice to it on a national level. For urban organizations, being a part of this hub multiplies resources and knowledge. I would say it has had a big impact on how effective many ministries, including my own local ministry, have been in their communities. Check out the work CCDA is doing at ccda.org.
We’d love to hear about your lovely bride, Vera Mae. What are you authorized to tell us about her?
Vera Mae suffered a congested heart failure 5 years ago. Out of that condition she ended up with a stroke. She hasn’t been able to walk since then. Out of the progressiveness of her type 2 diabetes she is now totally blind. She is often saddened by the fact that she can’t sing like she used to, but our family and ministry have her at home and we are able to serve her. She still gets fulfillment from ordering all of us around and she is still able to be in the midst of the family. It gives her a lot of joy to have all of our grandkids around for the summer. Given Vera Mae’s historic faithfulness and commitment, we probably tend to yield to her more than we did before, out of our love and her affliction. We want to give back something to her. Vera Mae was such a stable force for me all these years. She supported my big ideas and she has contributed immensely to the ministry. For decades, young children have grown up singing songs of praise with Grandma Perkins. We are so happy that she is still able to come out and spend time with the staff and children in our ministry even now. She is planning to start an omelet prayer breakfast soon. Her condition has not damaged her spirit and desire to share Christ.
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