Caption: Leaders pray for healthcare Wednesday during Black Clergy Day, a drive for approval of the National Black Clergy for the Elimination of AIDS Act. The leaders in the foreground (left to right) are: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), chairwiman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY); Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, chairman of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (which organized the event), C. Virginia Fields, president and CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA); Rev. D. Darrell Griffin, pastor of Covenant Church in Chicago; and Rev. Ruby Gilliam, pastor of the Divine Wisdom Christian Center in Randallstown, MD
Ministers were in town to push AIDS legislation
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 17, 2010) – With his healthcare reform proposal coming up for a crucial vote as soon as this week, Pres. Barack Obama got help this week from a group of Black members of the clergy – prayer.
More than 50 influential members of the clergy from Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and other states paused during a Capitol Hill visit to ask blessings for healthcare reform’s precarious prospects.
The prayer was led by Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor of the nationally renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York. Rev. Butts is also chairman of the group that brought the ministers to Capitol Hill, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, as well as a newly appointed member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
“I want us to pray for the work our president and those who have worked so hard on behalf of all the citizens of our nation,” Rev. Butts said. “We all know that prayer changes things. There is a contrary wind blowing against this bill. …We pray especially for our nation, that the light shine down upon us and show us a way to the promised land. We pray for the passage of the bill. Some may think that this not the proper prayer. But we know that you are concerned about our children. We know that you want us to remain whole.
“Dear Lord, bless us, empower us. For those who will remain in Washington working throughout this weekend, we say in the famous words of the black church, give us the victory. Victory is mine!”
Rev. Butts prayer was met by hearty amens from his colleagues.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) said the ministers’ visit to Washington, D.C., may turn out to be pivotal.
“When I marched from Selma to Montgomery, I had no idea that it would be the turning point in the Civil Rights Movement,” Rep. Rangel said. “Sooner or later you will feel that God just allowed you to come down on a day when Congress put forward the health bill. You can start putting together the story for your kids now.”
The comments came during Black Clergy Day, an event that brought clergy from around the country to Washington, D.C., to push for passage of the National Black Clergy for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act of 2009, which addresses the disproportionate toll of AIDS on African Americans. The legislation was developed by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA), which also organized Black Clergy Day.
The National Black Clergy for the Elimination of AIDS Act (H.R. 1964/S. 3011) emerged out of a conclave in 2007 organized by NBLCA that brought together clergy, medical experts, community leaders and elected officials to develop an agenda to fight AIDS. It was introduced in the House last April by Rep. Rangel and into the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in February.
Among other measures, H.R. 1964/S. 3011:
- Calls upon the president to declare HIV/AIDS an epidemic in the Black community;
- Directs the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to expand and intensify educational activities targeting Black women, youth and men having sex with men; and
- Requires a study of biological and behavioral factors that lead to higher rates of HIV and AIDS among Black Americans.
Rev. Butts tied the fate of the two legislative proposals together: “It doesn’t make sense to cover healthcare without worrying about HIV/AIDS. We’re concerned about people who are dying – people infected by AIDS and making sure that we have the resources and to move forward.”
Wednesday’s event was also attended by several members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), Rep. Donna Christensen (D-VI), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. Pelosi encouraged the ministers, stressing the importance of healthcare reform: “Healthcare is the biggest deterrent in our economy because if people lose their jobs and lose their healthcare, they are up the creek.”
The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, founded in 1987, is the oldest group of its kind. A not-for-profit organization, its mission is to educate, organize and mobilize Black leadership to meet the challenge of fighting HIV/AIDS in their local communities. NBLCA conducts policy, advocacy and research on HIV/AIDS issues and ensures the effective participation of its leadership in all policy and resource allocation decisions at the national level.
Clergy seek divine support for healthcare reform
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