The Rev. José Humphreys is a faith organizer, and pastor of Metro Hope Covenant Church, a multi-ethinic church movement in East Harlem, NYC. José remains committed to shalom-making in NYC, through facilitating conversation across social, economic, cultural and theological boundaries.
Articles By This Author
An Invitation to Disruption: A Call to White Churches
It was July 19, 2013, and we were leaving New York City for a spiritual retreat, six days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman “not guilty” in the death of Trayvon Martin. The sadness, anger, and weariness was well worn on the liturgies, prayers, and preaching of many of the churches in our Harlem neighborhood.
We found ourselves joining local church leaders and a few pastors in a conversation about justice that would eventually make its way toward a broad range of matters: the gay rights of questioning teens, clean water for children in Africa, and many of the frequent places conversations go with folks who are concerned with “loving our neighbor.” And so we sat, we listened, and were genuinely moved to openly share about the challenges and opportunities that have come with cultivating safe spaces for GBLT folks in our church community. TOGETHER we also inspired one another as we offered our collective experiences with integrating the arts in fundraising for international relief efforts.
And as Jose and I sat, listened, and shared TOGETHER, we found ourselves with heavy hearts waiting …“Would the conversation broach the tragedy of Trayvon Martin?” It didn’t.
And as we sat TOGETHER in sacred solidarity with compassionate, justice-minded pastors, who happened to be white, somehow we found ourselves feeling quite alone. So we mustered the courage to ask, “How have your churches responded to the Trayvon Martin verdict?” My question was met with silence. The silence that met us did not betray aloof or timid spirits, but rather uncertainty about whether their one voice could really make a difference, or that somehow they did not have the right to “speak on behalf” of brown and black realities.
3 Ways to Cultivate Joy While Working for Change
I was among millions across the globe wrapped up in the glee of Pharrel William’s song, “Happy.” I first heard it while watching Despicable Me 2 with my family last year. As the credits rolled I remember making a mental note to add it to my workout playlist.
Pharrel even released a 24-hour video of the song on YouTube for millions to enjoy globally – creating a sort of time released happy capsule that was just a click away.
I thought about how this “Happy” anthem struck a chord in our world’s collective unconscious. “Could it be a sign that all of us, the human family, crave deeper joy and some levity?”
I think faith-based communities can discuss this for years to come at a time where joy is a necessity more than a luxury, and ministers are flaming out quicker than ever, and according to a New York Times article, suffer from depression “at rates higher than most Americans.”
Maintaining a sense of joy is then vital for my own work, especially since I lean toward New York-bred cynicism and incredulity. Activism can be rewarding, yet also extremely discouraging at times. Change can seem incremental at best, and the issues are much bigger than any one person or institution can handle. Making joy a vital ingredient in the active life of faith, within the soul of activity.
I’ve been considering three approaches in cultivating joy, a God-given, buoyant energy, in the midst of some weighty work.
Dialogues with Harlem Heritage: A Church’s Prophetic Voice in the Context of Diversity
I stepped off the elevator and was greeted by three men with hoodies in church yesterday. My shoulders tensed for a few moments. Growing up in New York City, I’ve been groomed in paranoia and 20/20 peripheral eyesight. Yet after taking a second look, I smiled as I admired the theater props: Three hooded figures containing the faces of Hillary Clinton, Jay Z, and Trayvon Martin, with a caption reading, “We are Trayvon Martin.”
Metro Hope Church meets weekly at Harlem’s National Black Theater, so our church gatherings can often be a dance in improvisation as we’re frequently welcomed by new sets. One summer we were greeted by a gigantic “tree” protruding from center stage. It made this preacher’s imagination run vivid with all sorts of sermon possibilities.
But the hooded figures that greeted me last Sunday were a tribute to Trayvon Martin called, Facing our Truth: 10 Minute Plays on Race and Privilege. This month also happens to be the month that Trayvon Martin was born, and a month for celebration of Black History. These convergences do not escape me, nor does the distinct mission of our church in Harlem.
No stranger to dialogue on race and privilege, our church will often reflect on Dr. King who once lamented, “We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America … 11:00 on Sunday morning …we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”
Birmingham Before the Dream
Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church. IVP Books.
Fellowship with Black Suffering: We are Trayvon Martin
Today I search my soul along with many Americans who are discussing the Trayvon Martin tragedy. These conversations can range from news blogs clamoring for justice to benign disputes about the facts of the case by office water coolers. One of the more challenging conversation threads recently came in the form of a status update on Facebook. My colleague, Efrem Smith, lamented:
"Shouldn't the young black males who are victims of black on black crime get the same attention as Trayvon Martin? I say yes."
I believe Efrem's statement could have us conversing for months to come should we be bold enough to lovingly engage.
In Solidarity with Poor Churches: Embodying the Faith of Dr. King
Last Thursday, Jan. 12, I was arrested in the Bronx for civil disobedience along with 43 others. It was a group that consisted mainly of clergy and church laity, a grassroots evangelical effort led by Bronx Councilmen Fernando Cabrera. Our protest was aimed at the city’s decision to prevent 160 churches from renting worship space in public schools beginning, Feb. 12.
I would like to clarify the nature of my involvement. I remain a proponent of healthy boundaries between church and state. The church I presently lead does not meet in a public school, and we’re not faced with an impending threat of relocation. My inspiration to protest began when I discovered how the city’s decision would affect churches in the Bronx — the poorest urban county in the country.
If New York City remains a trendsetter, a decision like this could lead to numerous copycat decisions in poorer districts all over the country.