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Unapologetically Black

A Conversation with Otis Moss

As a pastor, activist, author, and filmmaker, Dr. Otis Moss III preaches messages of love and justice. Today, he is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. Chanda sat down with Otis to talk about his family’s legacy, why our community needs public health – not public safety, and why it’s important to understand the totality of Black history.

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Chanda Smith Baker  04:20 

And tell me what does it mean to be unapologetically black? 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  04:24 

You know, I had a conversation when I first came to Trinity, besides, I come out of the black Baptist tradition, and there are people in his nomination that were worried that I was going to move the church into the into the Baptist tradition, and I said to this individual, I said, you must understand that Trinity is UCC by history, but we are black by God’s divine activity, meaning that we do not create an oxymoron or any type of separation between our Africanity and our Christianity, that our culture, see people, when people hear black, they just assume color. We’re talking culture, history, ethnicity, our stories, the stories of our ancestral heritage, connected to our faith practice, and you cannot extricate our culture, our history, our heritage, the stories of our ancestors from our faith practice. 

Chanda Smith Baker  05:31 

You know, the one thing that I was reflecting on before this conversation, I think, speaks to that, and it’s one of me, you know, coming from the north side of Minneapolis, in Minnesota, where you find it sometimes difficult to find people that look like you. Now, if you want to just go hang out somewhere, where do you go? Right? If you want to go to the store and buy a doll for your little girl, where do you go? You know, there’s so much of where can you find where do you go related to who you are. I’m in a city that divined itself by being inclusive, but you have to really search to find representation of who you are, and to find the relatability aspect, and when I was reading sort of your background and the legacy that you have, which is, you know, you carry a name of generations, which, which is gonna be just a huge honor to think about, and we’ll get into that a little bit, you know, your father, your grandfather, you know, being from Morehouse, you know, I remember going to Atlanta and looking at the street names, and I’m like, oh, man, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have street names after people that I’ve read about, and so, you know, I just want to just talk about because you said that the importance of sort of that history and tying it, and I just don’t know if, if we truly understand the importance of understanding the history, where you’re from, and having those spaces where you feel like you belong, because the representation is there. 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  07:20 

I think the challenge for every person of color, especially people of African descent, is to find finding free space where you can flourish and thrive. You mentioned the idea of finding a doll that that looks like you that anti blackness is not just specifically saying that I don’t like you, but it’s also making you invisible. Yeah, sort of Ralph Ellison was talking about what it means to be an invisible man, in American society, and in this moment, at this time, it’s important for people of African descent, to be able to sip from the well of their heritage, embrace and engage the issues of today, and recognize that our heritage, our history, is not solely rooted in the framing of trauma. It is so much that is triumphant and powerful and beautiful and a lot of our history is most of our histories prior to 1619, though, we focus on 1619 to the present, rightfully so, because of our current condition, but, you know, all those things are necessary in terms of our being able to thrive in this in this instance, in this moment in this environment. 

Chanda Smith Baker  08:54 

You might have just surprised a few people saying that our history existed before 1619.  

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  09:00 

It’s thousands upon thousands of years, and our, you know, I’m a pastor, a Christian Minister and outside of our community, you know, inside of our community, it’s a given that when we’re talking about the Christian tradition, we’re talking about people of African descent, people of color. Outside of the tradition, people are looking at me like I’m, you know, an alien, he’s like, what do you what are you talking about? It’s like, Well, yeah, that guy Moses, you like, yeah, he grew up in Africa, you know, that guy, Jesus, you really like, he’s a dark skinned Palestinian Jew living under occupation and his family decided to hide him, where, in Africa when he was a child. So, so when you are looking at this tradition, in from that perspective, it becomes global. America likes to see the tradition as something that is not global, what other people are joining in much later, when in reality, you know, people of color, you know, African Asiatic community has been central to it. 

Chanda Smith Baker  10:07 

Yeah, and so we have, you know, sort of our history and then the moments that we’re living in now, and you know, the connection for me of your dad, you know, being with Martin Luther King also just gives me some goosebumps. I remember just going into museum and seeing, I think, a bible that he had, or seeing the desks that he wrote at, and needing to this to almost sit down, you know just feeling kind of weak at the knees, thinking about his age, his impact, the burdens that he carried, and, and being so thankful for what he did and sometimes we can see the most visible, and sometimes miss everyone around that made that possible, and so I just want to say thank you to you and your family, for contributing to what we have now. But when I think about what our people have lived through and died, died for, and then last May, this video comes out in Minneapolis, and we know we have seen all the videos before, so this is no way not acknowledging, you know, Philando Castile and Arbery and Breonna and Freddie Gray, and Trayvon, you know, all of all of the names that we have, unfortunately, known so well, that it became sort of the instigation for us to move on things that we should have been moving on. But something happened with George Floyd that felt remarkably different in the response. Why do you, why do you think that was the case, because I’ve heard people say, what was because we were captivated,  because it was the pandemic? 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  12:11 

That’s a great question. It was a combination, I believe. It was the isolation, and the I’m sorry, was that, that was my, okay. It was a combination of the isolation, along with the time of the video. So in isolation, we have been looking at our devices at a higher rate, and then you have this moment of now we know over nine minutes, you know, we thought it was just under nine minutes of a public execution, a public execution, as, as a man pleaded for his life, by a person who was funded, trained, and sponsored by the state. We’d seen quick videos, videos that move very quickly, and we’re trying to really capture and understand what’s going on in those videos. There are a few, few seconds there, there may be, you know, 45 seconds, as is, you know, in the case of Eric Garner, but here you have almost ten minutes. It is an extraordinary, long time to witness someone’s life, taken in front of you, and the bravery of Darnella Frazier, the young lady who recorded that if she had not been as courageous, we would not witness the dialogue about how do we reimagine public health. I don’t like to say public safety. I don’t like to use the word criminal justice or policing because our community needs public health. Public Health means you start a conversation about how do we ensure that a George Floyd is, is not murdered? Now do we make sure that there is not economic apartheid and health inequalities? Who do we call when there’s someone having a mental health crisis? That’s the public health discussion is we don’t move to that. We will always be in a reformed discussion about how we can weak a system that is detrimental to the health and well being of people of African descent, and being in isolation, witnessing something for 10 minutes, the viral nature of the video, we are in a digital age of social media, all of those things moving together and still with the residue,  the painful, challenging residue of an administration at the time that had embraced confederate, antebellum, rhetoric. All of that together, if you have a heart, if you have any sense of empathy, regardless of your ethnicity, or your privilege and station in life, you had to be moved. If you weren’t, I believe that you were deeply infected and affected by COVID 1619, not 19 COVID 1619, which is the most devastating disease America has, is yet to deal with, but it’s taken more lives than any other disease in this country. 

Chanda Smith Baker  16:18 

Yeah, I, the bravery of Darnella and the witnesses, I thought about, I think I recognize the, you know, the importance of the video at the time. I don’t think I understood the true acts of bravery until I watched the trial, and when you see the, the range from a nine year old, on up, that stood there, and what, what captivated me in those videos was the moments in which they were stepping out to help, and the officer simply put his hand on their hip, and they move back right, the way in which we have been conditioned to know that that is a signal of harm, was heartbreaking to me on top of like they were risking their lives and the simple act of trying to save a life in this act of racism, right there, we’ve not, we’ve not, we’ve not spent time understanding the impact on that, and ways that lead and leads to a death happening like that was I think, or is where I think the term sort of this reckoning on race has come from and so do you, do think that we’re, we’re in this time of reckoning, do you, do, do you believe that? 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  18:00 

Why do you use the term reckoning? I don’t think we’re in a reckoning. If you were in a wreck if you’re reckoning with something, it truly means that you’re wrestling, facing and seeking to repair what is broken. We’re in a facing moment. So we’re facing it and some people are choosing to close their eyes in the midst of it, or which is there’s, a there’s a wonderful director by the name of Akira Kurosawa. Akira Kurosawa did the Seven Samurai, Ran, all these incredibly classic movies, Hidden Fortress, but he has a film called Rashomon, and in Rashomon is about a crime. But all of the witnesses see something different, and he’s raising this question about not about whether witness testimony is legitimate, but he’s raising the question that some people choose not to see certain things. A crime happens and there are some people based upon their investment, it’s been what’s happening. They said, oh no, it didn’t happen. I didn’t see that. It was right in front of them, but no, I didn’t see that, that didn’t happen, and so this is our Rashomon. This is this is literally our Rashomon in America, where there are some who want to reckon, and then there are others who are saying, there’s nothing wrong. This is the greatest country in the world. How dare you say anything? Leave? If in fact, you don’t like it? It’s like then you really don’t know history, this, do you know how I got here? But anyway, That’s a whole another story.  

Chanda Smith Baker  19:41 

You know, and I mean, I think that, so let’s talk about that because you have people that are standing in and I think that’s a perfect connection to like a nine year old, right? Like Darnella in her teenage years was like, I’m gonna make an act of bravery. I’m gonna choose not to walk by to the firefighter who, you know, made a phone call that work to intervene that understands that, you know, she might have to make a phone call and ask for backup, knows the difference between right and wrong, right, and she chose to make an act, and I think that in things that are so obviously wrong and violent, you know, it’s more difficult to ignore those things, but racism and acts of hate, and offenses don’t always come in that most obvious way that we witnessed in that video and I think many people are wrestling with if you don’t understand racism, you know, and you don’t have or if you’re learning to understand how race and racism and institutional challenges work, and you witness something, they’re struggling with, how did they find their voice and intervene, if they don’t feel like the expert? There were no experts on that corner that day. There were just people that said it’s wrong. So any advice of those people that are coming into or want to come into their voice on these issues? 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  21:26 

So that’s a wonderful question and I thought, and I think that you kind of let us down the path that you find your voice, you know, your, your moral center or discover or reaffirm your, your moral center, you don’t have to be the frontline activist. You don’t have to be the intellectual savant around public policy. King says, you just got have to serve, and find the space where you can serve. There are some who are gifted in teaching, there are some who are passionate, who are project managers, who can help us manage the project of reckoning with what we’re dealing with. There, there are those who are editors, when I speak of editing, editing, from sound to video, who can bring together a collage of images that nurture our soul. Some can just write poetry, and some will preach, others are athletes and will bring together communities in those athletic events that are more than just the idea of working to achieve a collective goal, but add a consciousness to those moments where you are competing with another team, or another human being. Everybody can serve, you know, I can put it this way, he said that, and I paraphrase that I’ve always loved it when he, when he said that, that that everybody can serve he says that you may not be able to paint like Michelangelo, you may just be a street sweeper, but street sweep the streets the way Michael Angelo, you know, painted, you know that this thing, and at the level in which Marian Anderson used to sing with power, everybody, wherever you are, you can do it with excellence and do it for the service of humanity. 

Chanda Smith Baker  23:46 

Yeah, I can’t figure out what this beeping noise is, crazy. You know, so the video, and social media we touched on a little bit and one of the things that I think I love so much about your church is the integration of multimedia and what I love about it is not that it hits all of the ways in which I learn and get sort of interested but what I love is how it allows for younger generation to express emotion to be engaged in the church to bring their creativity to bring their vision to engage their peer group, and I don’t know if we appreciate as much sort of the role of theory, storytelling and creativity in this movement of social justice, and I know I think that this is something that’s passionate, a passionate place for you and I’d love for you to just share a little bit about your thinking.  

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  24:59 

I appreciate you bringing that up because that is one of my passions and loves and around multimedia especially film, arts, in general. For eternity, we’ve attempted to embrace the artistic side, in reference to the presentation of the gospel and the communication to our wider village, we have a wonderful team of, of artists in residence and poets, set designers, dancers, you name it, it just a wonderful for group of, of people just doing work, but multimedia allows us to reach people in ways we never could, with an analog setup. So you know, we have a, we have a church of analog and digital people. We have some who are analog natives, and then we have some who are digital natives, and then we have some people who are analog, who are moving to digital, and those are kind of interesting individuals in general, you know, that are moving in that direction, and we use what is called a 360 model, for impacting the mind, body, and spirit. The 360 model is really just borrowed from graphic design, where, you know, in graphic design, and also in the development of webpages, where you raise the question around how people learn, and that some people are visual, some people are auditory, some people are tactile, some people are kinetic, it’s all these different ways in which people learn, but you bring all of those pieces together when designing something to make sure that you are connecting with everyone in the audience, and we use that when we are doing work at Trinity because we believe Jesus use that model too. I mean, so here’s Jesus, he’s like, his auditory guy, right? He’s speaking, but you know, for some people also, it has to be tactile with there has to be this movement and touch others, it has to be kinetic in terms of, how he heals, and when he tells shares sacred wisdom, it’s never in the traditional European academic sense. Let me give you this whole philosophical layout of what this means, and let me break down the metaphysical now, he tells a story, that your mama can go home and repeat, and you hear what Jesus said, you know, and then he tweets I mean, he gives his blessed are they, you know, these little short little tweets all the time, and you can only have like 120 characters and what he states so that you can pass this on. So borrowing from that, and he uses mobile ministry, so we’re all used to using our cell phones, were mobile in our communications, Jesus borrows that same framework, or really, we get that same framework from Jesus, and use the idea this way is that he didn’t have a synagogue, temple church to go to he said, wherever I go, foxes have holes, for birds of the air have nests of man has no place to lay his head, because I’m going to go where the people are, I’m going to be mobile, in the ministry, in the work, in the community organizing, in the engagement, in the healing versus saying, you all come to me. He just goes into communities. So if you use that model, you end up with a very digital centric model, doing work. Are we mobile? Are we able to reach people where they are? The language that we use? Is the language, is it a story form in which can be repeated that’s what’s so beautiful about film and why people connect with film, and, you know, you get a bunch of guys and sisters together and they start quoting stuff, like, for example, I get me and some of my friends, we come to come together, and there’s always going to be a joke, we’ll start talking about like coming to America, the original not that coming to America 2, but the original one, and somebody is going to act out scenes from it, because that’s like one of my favorite comedies and then it leads to these other things because it connects us with memory and what we were doing at that moment and all of these kind of things. We have to do the same thing when we’re administering with people that would be able to communicate this sacred wisdom, the deep compassion and justice centered theology that comes from Jesus that demands that we reach and stand with and for those who are the disinherited of this community of this nation that model that model is how we flow, and, you know, unapologetically church were unapologetic about. 

Chanda Smith Baker  30:09 

Yeah. So you almost have me say like I should start going into work and saying what would Jesus do? Because I was you know, as you’re talking, I’m thinking, you know, there’s all this stuff and we’re always then we need to get more proximate like there’s like, like proximity is so necessary and we can actually never get close enough to the work, right? You have to keep pushing yourself to understand and it begs the question of who is the expert, and, if you see yourself as the expert, then you’re not in a position to help in the way that you are and, you know, in philanthropy, we have power and position, we have influence, and there’s an opportunity for us to act different, in the name of justice, act different in reflection of the learnings that if we didn’t have it before last year, perhaps were a little bit more learned and that without having listened, or had we had Listen, because the cries that our community has not been healthy, in your language with relationship to the police wasn’t unheard. That wasn’t the first video that we’ve seen, right? People are talking about parents need to get more active in their kids education, and they need to do this, they need to get engaged, and they need to let us know what’s going on and what’s not working. Oh, people have been letting you know, and you know, they’re making decisions every day with their decisions, what you know, by making different choices with the schools by expressing it, but I’m not sure we’ve been listening, and so I think some of the lessons that you just said could also be applied to many other sectors, including philanthropy, and, you know, I know you’ve worked closely with philanthropy, and I’m wondering, you see the same sort of relatability that I was feeling as you were talking? 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  32:13 

Oh, absolutely. One of the challenges with the philanthropic community is the 30,000 foot or the ivory tower, the framework, you know, we dole out resources, when there needs to be partnership. How do you create partnership capacity, and develop leaders who do not fit the model that you believe the leadership model should read? So I want someone who graduates from the University of Minnesota. I want them to have a master’s in this, no, your best leader, maybe the individual who records George Floyd’s death. That may be the person that then you develop capacity versus saying what we think you need. What do you need, we’ve lead by following, by serving. I like the way Mohandas Gandhi says it. He said, quote, on a paraphrase he says there go my people, let me catch up to them, and his point in making the statement was, is I have to know where the people are first. The other piece is you have to be rooted in the story of the community that you are committing to. If you don’t know the nuance and the beauty of those stories, we will make the mistake of viewing the community through the lens of tragedy, trauma, and brokenness. That’s why one of my favorite filmmakers is Barry Jenkins, and Barry Jenkins, though, he may take something like you know, Moonlight or If Beale Street Could Talk, or The Underground Railroads, the recent one that he’s doing now. It’s pretty amazing, very difficult. He was very clear that the way in which he creates his films, he says it has to be a totality. Meaning there has to be the beauty, along with some challenges, but if you can’t see the beauty, then you can’t see the totality of this community. If there is no black joy, then there is no black film, there is no black poetry, there is no black preaching, there is no black music, none of that, and so if you aren’t ready, if you can’t recognize the joy, if you can’t recognize the totality of that community, then you end up with the colonizer mindset or missionary mindset in reference to the community that you want to serve. So with the partnership that begins wellness run even level the leaders are already present. How do we support them? How can they guide us, and we come out on the other side? If we are funders, if we’re the philanthropic organizations, we are students and learning in the process. So what are we going to learn? What is the board of the trust going to learn? Are you going to spend several days with the organic leadership of this community, and listen and learn and recognize the gifted skills that they already have? I mean, you have to, you’ve got to, we’ve got to view it from that perspective, or we continue to repeat the same cycles over and over again. 

Chanda Smith Baker  35:51 

Well, yeah, I totally agree with that, and, you know, just to make another sort of slight pivot, and maybe connect some of these actions, because now, you know, if you if you understand that you are a listener, and that leadership exists, and you can see how racism plays out, then maybe you began to see structural racism differently, and maybe you begin to see why policy making is so important to view through a racialized construct, and, you know, I’m pulling from all your stories today, and so your grandfather. I’m sure you’re probably tired of talking about this story, I don’t know but I did watch the film. I think it’s amazing, but I would love it, if you would just share a little bit about the story of your grandfather, and the connection to voting. 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  36:53 

Thank you very much for mentioning that, and, you know, honoring my grandfather by just lifting that up. I think he is got more recognition in his passing than when he was living which is quite extraordinary. We created a film for those listening, entitled Otis’ Dream, you know, I’m named after my father. My father is named after his father, and it was his dream to vote, 1946 in Georgia. He was going to vote against a gentleman and I use that term loosely, gentleman, politician by the name of Eugene Talmadge was running for governor. Now, Mitch wasn’t about right, racist. As a matter of fact, I’m not making this up, because people think it’s like I parable when I say it. He had a campaign that said, I want to make Georgia great again. It’s just it’s really kind of bizarre and ironic, to ensure that people of African descent, he says, he said, if you elect me, there will be no Negro who will ever vote in another Georgia primary. I’m going to make the state great again and my grandfather was a sharecropper. He did not have a formal education. His wife died roughly six months after she gave birth to her youngest child, my Uncle, Uncle Mitchell, and she died as a result of medical apartheid, because they would not service her at the quote unquote, white hospital. So she dies as a result of medical apartheid. My grandfather is now raising five children alone. He chooses to continue to raise those five children alone, which is a fascinating thing in our family, because in that during that time period, but most men would have gotten remarried, but he chooses to be a single father, and our belief is that the love between them, because his wife, Magnolia Moss, my grandmother was much more educated than he was. You know, she was the Educator of the family. She’s the one that’s teaching people, you know, the proper grammar and how to read and all of that, and he’s a sharecropper, who was a veteran, very proud man, and in 1946, he decides that he is going to vote. He’s going to vote against Talmadge and what is known as Troup County Georgia, which is roughly about an hour and a half from Atlanta, outside of small city and known as LaGrange that would have been the county seat and the largest city, around, close Troup County and in the first polling place he goes to, he’s denied access to the polls, as you know, boy, you’re at the wrong place. He goes to the next polling place, which is roughly another nine miles, he’s already walked like nine miles to the one polling place, he walks into the nine miles to the next, and they tell him, you’re in the wrong place, you got to go to this other polling place. In the lore that we know of is that more than likely, every time he came in to vote, someone called ahead to the next polling place to say there’s a negro on his way, because it was stalking, or in this rule community for this, yeah, he had his Sunday suit on, this well-dressed black man to walk into a polling place and say, give me my ballot and know, the law said, technically the law said, I have the right to vote. Now there are all these other ways in which they will keep you from voting like what they did with my grandfather. So first polling place, no second polling place, no, last polling place, he gets to the polling place and they close the door in his face and say, boy, if you’ve been here a few minutes earlier, you would have been able to vote. So he’s already, you know, this is like this 20 mile journey, walking, rural Georgia alone. Black person 1946 walking in Eastern, that’s our Western portion of Georgia alone and then having to walk home alone, and it’s getting dark. Well, my father said is that we weren’t sure if our father was going to return. All because he made the decision to try to vote. He comes home, they’re excited, they think he’s voted and they said, Papa, did you vote? He said, no, not this time, but I will next time. Two months before he was able to cast his ballot, he was killed in an automobile accident. So he never had the opportunity to vote, which inspired my father, my aunts and my uncle, that everyone in my family, in some form, joined some cause around voting rights, a father joint civil rights movement. My Aunt Josie would like to joke she’s the feminist of the family. She was specifically in and around women, black women’s rights vote. My other aunts all of them gathered with their churches around voting, and my Uncle Mitchell, same thing, local community around but every and no one really talked about it much, until I start, you know, communicating within that everybody had this deep seated ethic. You have to vote, you have to encourage other people to vote. It’s your right to vote, you do whatever is necessary to make sure no one takes that right away, and when I had my first opportunity to vote I was with my father. I had, the first time I had the opportunity to vote for President I was, I voted for a black man, Jesse Jackson, and my father jokes and says that he paused, he was in one booth, I was in the other, and he said he paused and he had to hear the click of me voting, and he said he never heard something so beautiful in his life because he knew at that moment that that click was, was created because of his father and then when I took my son to vote for the first time, the first person that he had the opportunity to vote for was a black woman and after he voted he calls his grandfather and tells him he said Papa, I voted, and he got real emotional, you know. Here he was his father was denied, a father fights for the right to vote as a part of the civil rights movement SCLC takes me to vote for the first time and this shocking, strange moment I get a chance to vote in a primary for Reverend Jesse Jackson. My son gets a chance to vote in the mayoral election here in Chicago and votes for a black woman. So he was just thinking it was blowing him away that my son and my grandson, were able to vote for someone my father only could dream of being on a ballot. 

Chanda Smith Baker  45:11 

There’s so much emotion in there and pride in there, and, you know, I’ll go where I think I started, which is sort of this connection to history, like our country’s history. The removal of it from our educational system has stripped so much of that understanding from everyone. But I think even in our own families, and I, you know, I know that there were people in my family that had to go through something very similar and many families of color, Jewish families that have to endure some level of what your grandfather did, but because a lot of that history, even within families have not been shared too painful to share, haven’t been able to be documented, I think, you know, we lose a bit of the connection of what people endured in a very personal approximate way to get us to where we can go, and I love that it traces that in your family, and that that legacy continues and voting, not just an honor of what black people had to endure, but what your grandfather did on behalf of you, and your family and then the rest of us got to benefit from it. It’s really quite remarkable., and I appreciate you sharing this story, because I’m so inspired by it. So I personally just wanted to hear it, but I also appreciate it because again, I don’t think that we often realize how close in our history how that we can touch the practices of the past that have morphed into some of the things that we’re seeing today relative to our rights as a people, and so when people are saying, well, why don’t folks care about education? Or why aren’t they voting? Or why aren’t they whatever? And, and it’s like, What do you understand what people had to endure? Do you understand it was a life or death situation, and do you understand the test that we’re giving at the bowl? Do you understand, you know, all of these things, and how it materializes and gets shared is through an experience of pain and fear, and so, so when you hear about things that are happening in Georgia, and you see where some of the political places, we are not to get overly political, but do you feel like there’s been progress, and are you looking? Do you feel hopeful as we close? Do you feel hopeful? Do you think there’s progress? Oh, 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  48:02 

I certainly feel hopeful, because of the energy and the commitment, the voices of the actions that have been taken by so many young, resilient activists, policy makers, artists and ministers, institutional builders. There has been movement. I mean, I’m always have to remind myself remind other people when I’m having conversations with people, and they say, things haven’t changed. We’re dealing with the same thing and I always remind someone, I was having a conversation, not long ago, with someone I said, now, before you say that, I want you to think about Area, Area Talsa, and her work and her ability to be able to face the tragedy of her moment and not fall into despair. She didn’t have the organizing tools we have there was no social media. There were no hashtags. Right? She did not have the ability to drive north, south west north. She did she didn’t have any of those abilities, but yet she remained hopeful because her work was not for her. She really was real clear. My work is for those who haven’t been born yet, period, that’s what I’m doing, I’m making a way for you, and if a woman who was born enslaved think she was about 14 attached a two pound weight to her head and knocked her unconscious not to experience the kind have vitriol and assaults that we can only imagine, could remain hopeful? Well, she is I always go back when she is a model for me along with Frederick Douglass. Now, being hopeful does not mean that you are saying that we’re just going to sing Kumbaya being hopeful means realistic hope, prophetic hope, says that we are going to wrestle with these demons and exercise them from our soul, the American soul and we have to wrestle with them. We have to exercise them, we have to fight with them base. Unfortunately, the demons are not just systematic in our culture and in civic society, that the residue of what makes the system possible is within all of us and that’s what the great African theologian named as St. Agustin tells us that we all have this piece of brokenness. Like put it this way, everybody has a halo and horns at the same time. You just catch me on the wrong day, it may be a halo day. Could be a horn day and we all have to wrestle with that. So there has been progress, but we are still, unfortunately, we have systematic racism on heavy rotation in our playlist. And that is the challenge with America. Will we add some new songs? Will we delete some old songs? Or will we create an entirely new song and chorus for us to say, and that’s what we’re going to be the question for the future. 

Chanda Smith Baker  52:21 

What a perfect note to end on. I’m feeling quite clever with that, why I appreciate you so much in the work that you are leading and the thoughtfulness that you’re putting in to it and thank you. 

Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III  52:39 

Oh, well, thank you. This was a delight to be able to talk with you.  

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About Our Guest

Otis Moss

With civil rights advocacy in his DNA, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III built his ministry on community advancement and social justice activism. As Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Ill., Dr. Moss spent the last two decades practicing and preaching a Black theology that unapologetically calls attention to the problems of mass incarceration, environmental justice, and economic inequality.

Dr. Moss is part of a new generation of ministers committed to preaching a prophetic message of love and justice, which he believes are inseparable companions that form the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As part of his community engagement through Trinity United Church of Christ, Dr. Moss led the team that came up with the “My Life Matters” curriculum; which includes the viral video “Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival,” created in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Ferguson, Mo., police.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Dr. Moss is an honors graduate of Morehouse College who earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary. He returned to Yale in 2014 to present the famed Lyman Beecher lectures. The three-day event included an in-depth discourse on the subject of “The Blue Note Gospel: Preaching the Prophetic Blues in a Post Soul World.” The lectures, which demonstrated a homiletic blueprint for prophetic preaching in the 21st century, were the foundation of his latest book, “Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair,” published in 2015.

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