Harlem and its residents are at an historical crossroads, each uncertain of the next road to take, said Rev. Michael Walrond Jr.
“Harlem right now is a paradoxical space,” said Walrond, senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church. “On the one hand we have spaces where you can see images of renewal and renaissance. Apartment buildings are going up, restaurants are opening.
“But at the same time small black businesses are closing. There is an undercurrent of despair in the community that we are not really dealing with.
“We are at a place historically where we are being challenged as a community not only to look more deeply at ourselves, but also to re-imagine what our community can look like,” Walrond said.
Which is why First Corinthian, which now boasts a congregation of 3,000 members, is hosting a Celebrity Fatherhood Panel discussion from 7-9 p.m. Friday at the church, located on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. at 116th St.
Admission to the panel discussion is free.
Panelists will include National Basketball Association player (and New York Knicks) Amar’e Stoudemire, former Knick Allan Houston, former Atlanta Hawks center Etan Thomas, rapper Styles P, actor Chaz Lamar Shepard and ESPN sports analyst Chris Broussard.
The panel grew out of Thomas’s book, “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” a collection of essays by athletes and celebrities — including former NBA great Kareem Adbul-Jabbar and director Michael Moore — on the joys and trials of being a father.
“I wanted to write something that would be really inspirational to young people, particularly young people growing up in a single parent household like I did,” said Thomas, now a free agent living in Washington, D.C. “You always hear the statistics when you’re growing up; that kids from single parent households are more likely to drop out, to go to prison. Girls were more likely to get pregnant.
“I wanted kids to know they can be whomever and whatever they want to be,” Thomas said. “I got a lot of different types of people in the book so that, if the kids didn’t believe (in one person’s story), there were other people they could believe.
“This is a book I wish I had when I was growing up.”
“Sometimes we are stuck with images and models that don’t speak to the current cultural context,” Walrond said. “African-American fathers face so much criticism. They’re absentee fathers, they are not role models. We want to look at how we can resolve some of these issues.
“We want to re-imagine the role of fathers,” he said. “How can fathers remain present and impact young people’s lives and our communities in positive ways?
“It’s not something we can resolve in a two-hour panel,” Walrond said. “But by having the conversation, we begin the process of really developing ways to address these issues. Too often we don’t have public conversations about things that affect our community. Too often we have more public venting than we have strategizing.”
Too often, Walrond added, African-American communities teach their young a “narrative of limitations.”
“Too often the message is not that all things are possible, but that some things are not accessible to people of a certain upbringing and social station,” he said. “To counter that argument we have to create narratives of what is possible.”
It’s not enough to show young, successful people living opulent lives while not showing the steps they took to reach that level, he said.
It’s also unfair, Walrond noted, to have young people aspiring to be rappers and not the people who pay the rapper’s salaries.
“The images tell them to be rappers, they don’t tell them to own MTV or VH1,” Walrond said. “At some point we have to re-imagine possibilities. This is the hard and tedious work of empowering lives.
“The only way we are going to make Harlem a place for all people, even those who feel like they are living in an occupied territory, is to push a narrative of hope. We have re-imagine the possibilities for our lives and our community.”
The church website is http://www.fcbcsermons.com/.
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