Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quality of Character - Part 2

Faulkner for Congress!

You’ll note that I’ve added an endorsement for Michel Faulker to the top-right hand corner of this blog. Faulkner is an evangelical Baptist pastor from New York City’s Harlem who is running for the congressional seat currently held by Charles Rangel. If that name sounds familiar, maybe it’s because Rangel is the subject of an ethics probe in the House of Representatives for a variety of alleged violations during his many years in Congress.

I’m not making a racial statement with this endorsement, just because Faulkner is black and I’m not. I’m introducing him to you because you need to know who he is. Not just because he stands a good chance of winning Rangel’s seat to represent one of New York’s most iconic neighborhoods, but also because this could very well be the first rung on Faulkner’s ladder to wider national prominence.

It's Michel, Not Michael

Although I've met him, he wouldn’t remember me from Adam. Faulkner served as the youth pastor when I first started attending Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan back in the 1990’s. He later left to pastor a predominantly black church further uptown, and has raised his family in Harlem. Even during his days at Calvary, I remember him being a modest yet determined man, full of faith and conviction, and living a life of integrity. He worked on the groundbreaking mayoral campaign of Rudy Giulianni and has served on numerous committees in the city. Nobody I know who also knows Faulkner has ever had a bad word to say about him.

In this day and age, it’s rare to come across as focused yet as selfless a political operative as Faulkner. Usually, a person running for office has some ulterior motive, whether it’s a desire for financial gain, power, or prestige. Although as I’ve said, I don’t know Faulkner personally, nor have I seen him in years, he will need to have completely changed his personality and mentality to be the self-aggrandizing congressional candidate one would expect a typical urban political candidate to be.

One of the characteristics I so loved about New York’s Calvary Baptist stemmed from the first time I visited in search of a church home: walking through the heavy wooden doors into its newly-renovated sanctuary, I looked around at the majestic mix of peoples, cultures, and ethnicities, and immediately felt at home. Even though I didn’t know a soul there.

Of course, whenever Faulkner would help lead a worship service or preach, I visibly perceived his skin color, but like everyone else at Calvary, skin color didn’t mean much. When you’re able to worship and serve together with race and culture being insignificant factors, you get a glimpse of what true acceptance and progress can be. For Faulkner to play a part in establishing and perpetuating that type of environment spoke volumes to me. And I have it on good authority by friends from Calvary who keep in touch with Faulkner: he hasn’t changed.

Integrity Still Counts

To me, Faulkner represents a stunning opportunity for not only New York’s 15th Congressional District, but for the country as a whole. If he does get elected, I have no reason to assume Faulkner’s integrity won’t be so counter-cultural that he’ll just fade into the background in Washington. Particularly when juxtaposed to incumbent Rangel’s old-style manipulation of the Democratic machine and personal sense of entitlement, not to mention the indictments against him, I expect Faulkner’s personal humility and transparency will be a breath of fresh air. The fact that he’s also a (relatively) conservative Republican from a historically liberal Democratic district would also affirm the progress some conservatives have been making towards balancing economic imperatives with viable social considerations.

Why do I think Faulkner has a good chance of winning? After all, he’s running against decades of cronyism, racism, and a New York media which loves Rangel’s flamboyance. Just because Faulkner is a born-again evangelical won’t automatically hold him in good stead among fellow church-going blacks, many of whom will be suspicious of his Republican affiliation and, even worse, his strong background in cross-cultural and cross-racial collaboration on a variety of issues. But it’s just that collaborative spirit and his grass-roots experience with real issues that can be the groundwork for a platform of honest-to-goodness reform. Reform in a part of New York City which for too long has been told positive change is too elusive, while its well-coiffed representative buys estates in the Dominican Republic and enjoys multiple rent-controlled apartments in one of Harlem’s nicest high-rises.

I’m sure Faulkner has his faults, but they can’t be any worse that those of his opponent. Actually, word on the street has it that even other Democrats are eager to dethrone Rangel, so anti-incumbent fever may be taking hold in Harlem. Still, I wanted to bring Faulkner to your attention as the person to watch in this pivotal Congressional election which, by virtue of its location and population, could attract national recognition.

It's Not About Race Anymore

Even if Faulkner doesn't win Rangel's seat, hopefully by now, you can see why I’m talking about Sherrod, Obama, and Faulkner in the same essay. Racism isn't just about skin color. It's not only how you view yourself, but how you view other people who are different from you. Precious few of us can claim to be righteous when it comes to our personal engagement with the subject. Even though most people profess a considerable level of racial tolerance, deep down, many of us still struggle with stereotypes and assumptions which, to a certain extent, color how we respond to and interact with people from different races.

From what I know about Michel Faulkner and what I've heard from Shirley Sherrod, these are two people who have, to varying degrees of success, moved on from mere skin color to a level of social integration where their spheres of influence have become significant. Before her unwarranted lynching by Andrew Brietbart, yes, Sherrod was what conservatives would consider a liberal Democrat, but she had parlayed a comprehensive command of the USDA system into a recognized platform of civil service. Faulkner, while never the consummate liberal like Sherrod, has risen through the community service ranks in North America's most contentious city and established a reputation based on faith and integrity first, with skin color often only coming into play when people see him on TV.

In the meantime, few people can argue that Barak Obama hasn't banked on his blackness to get into Harvard, crack Chicago's political machine, and assume the presidency. Of these three individuals, Obama has gained the most from being black, but he seems to be the most uncomfortable in his dark skin. Why is that? Is it still too early in his presidency to assume that he prickles too easy when racial subjects surface? Are we blasting his acquiescence to his gaggle of vanilla advisors too soon? Are we reviewing George W. Bush's highly integrated cabinet with too much perplexity at Obama's comparatively white one?

My Blog's First Endorsement

I had heard a while ago that Faulkner was going to run for Rangel's seat in the House. When I saw a friend post Faulkner's campaign fan page on FaceBook, I genuinely got excited. And you regular readers of this blog know I don't get excited about much.

I told my FaceBook friend that not only do I wholeheartedly support Faulkner for his Manhattan district, I'd vote for him for president.

Please visit his website, donate financially to his campaign if you can, volunteer for his campaign if you live in New York City, and follow his progress.

Faulkner definitely stands for change we can believe in! Black, white, everybody.

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