Maurita Coley Flippin, Esq.
Principal, MCF Global LLC
Executive Consultant, Bridge Philanthropic Consulting, LLC
This essay is adapted from a “Morning Meditation” delivered virtually for Metropolitan AME Church and the Daniel Alexander Payne Community Development Corporation
on January 25, 2023
This essay was inspired by a recent sermon delivered by my pastor, the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, senior pastor of Metropolitan AME Church, titled: “Gravitational Pull.” Pastor Lamar’s message, delivered as we celebrated “HBCU Sunday,” was about giving in to “the pull” on our lives that many of us are experiencing in these near “dystopian” times.
“The pull” is about God causing you to burn with passion for the thing you are to do, in a way that makes you KNOW what to do, even if you ignore it.
The pull is something that you can experience early in your career like the Howard University students who blessed our church with their musical talents on HBCU Sunday when they could have been out at play. Or the pull can impact someone like me who, even after a 40-plus year career in law and business, feels “the pull” more strongly now than ever.
Sometimes the pull is a quiet whisper like when God spoke to Elijah in the “still small voice” in 1 Kings, chapter 19, verses 11-13. But sometimes the pull is loud and boisterous.
The pull spoke loud to me over the Christmas holidays, when my husband and I traveled from Washington, DC across the country to spend two weeks in lovely Santa Monica, California visiting and babysitting for our two-year old grandson. Our children had warned us that the high cost of living in California was driving people to the streets. But we live in Washington, DC, so we thought: well how bad could it really be? We’ve grown accustomed, if not insensitive, to the persistent presence of the “unhoused” community in the nation’s capital.
Soon, the stark realities of California’s affordable housing crisis were on full display as we ventured out of tony Santa Monica where I’ve seen folks like Ted Danson of the Cheers sitcom fame, casually shopping at the neighborhood Whole Foods. And we did not have to go far.
We thought we’d get a head start on our New Year’s resolutions by going to the gym every day in neighboring Venice. En route to the gym, we witnessed hundreds of people lining the curbs outside the gym, where they lived in tents. One day, we were blessed with tickets to an owner’s suite to watch an LA Rams game in the new multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art So-Fi Stadium in Inglewood. Again, en route to the game, we saw thousands of people living in “tent cities” outside of the stadium in Inglewood, which had once been a proud Black community. The scene was reminiscent of a prophetic Octavia Butler novel. We learned that people were being forced out of their apartments by rents that doubled once real estate developers anointed Inglewood as a desirable place to live, with easy access to the stadium, the new basketball arena, and the finest restaurants.
But we know this story, and we don’t have to go all the way to California to see what happens when people are displaced or ignored by economic policies and mental health policies, or the lack thereof. We can go right down the street on Connecticut Avenue to Dupont Circle, or to our own urban core – we don’t need to go to So-Fi to see that people are living on the streets, nationwide. I feel that we’ve become immune to it. Otherwise, why do we keep finding incentives to build high-end condos and luxury shopping zones but not for housing that people can afford?
In LA, perhaps because of the utter massiveness of the housing problem, it was impossible to become immune or to look the other way. In LA, “the pull” is not like a still small voice, “the pull” is a big blaring megaphone that assaults the conscience and the spirit; it’s an unrelenting call to action to do something, anything in the presence of obvious inequities.
“The pull” of the work of Metropolitan AME and its Daniel Alexander Payne Community Development Corporation on whose board I serve makes it impossible for me to walk past an elderly woman or man, living at a bus stop, whether it’s on Connecticut Avenue or next to SoFi stadium in LA, without asking myself: “how am I doing my part?”
Sometimes, the pull will even have you doing things you’re not trained to do. I’m not a financial advisor, I don’t know affordable housing, and I definitely don’t know scratch or python coding. Part of my brain says I should be retired by now. But the pull has given me the passion to learn new skills, to help my board and my church provide free access to licensed financial and estate planning professionals to help people maintain generational wealth; to write fundraising proposals for affordable housing or STEM programs; to help sign people up for low-cost internet programs that are readily available; to partner with other community organizations who support the “have-nots” in our communities.
For most of my career, I was careful to “separate church and state. But as I reflect on the things that made me who I am, I think of my 105-year-old grandmother, Essie “Bigma” Harris, and her work in the AME church and in our community in Detroit, Michigan, back in a time when the Black Church was the primary source of our economic, spiritual, and political power. Back before we got comfortable with the titles and the material gains some of us think we have made on our own.
In one of his first sermons after being assigned to lead Metropolitan AME, Pastor Lamar expressed his desire to get us “out of the pews” and out into the community. Through collaborations with organizations like the Washington Interfaith Network, the Clergy for Community Wealth Building, BlackChurches4DigitalEquity, and numerous others, our pastor has pressed us to address “the pull” on our church by using our power to address systemic inequities in the midst of us.
The recent tragedy at my alma mater Michigan State University shocked many of us who thought that the safety of a utopia like MSU’s campus was immune from the ravages unaddressed mental illness and online misinformation resulting in inexplicable gun violence. But we are all in this together, and we must learn to step outside of our own comfort zones and give in to the pull to do our part. Because no matter what kind of neighborhood you THINK you live in, or how safe you think you are, none of us can get out of what Pastor Lamar refers to as “the cistern” until we can ALL get out of the cistern.
I submit that embracing a spiritual practice will help you to know what to do, and who to do it for. And giving in to the pull is by no means a mantra of just the Black Church. The writings of other religions such as the Bahai faith (Bahá’u’lláh) espouses that “the welfare of each of us is inextricably bound to the welfare of all;” “Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch.”
Because I don’t care how successful you are, or how much wealth you create for yourself, you won’t be able to enjoy your mountaintop experience if your precious oceanfront view is marred by the people living in tents on the beach.
But I have some good news about giving in to “the pull.” Giving in to “the pull” does not require a siloed, either/or approach – it can be a both/and experience. You can have an illustrious career and create wealth; you can enjoy your seats on the 50-yard line. You can even ascend to the owners’ suite at the stadium or the c-suite on your job. But while you are there, acknowledge “the pull;” let the pull lead you to use your voice, use your money, use your influence, use your technology skills, use all your gifts to empower and heal the world, in whatever way God speaks to your heart.
But I warn you, giving in to “the pull” might also lead you to new and different careers, where you choose to serve the people in the tents outside the stadium, instead of the ones who can afford a ticket to the game.
If you are so inclined, I close this essay with a prayer:
Dear Lord, help us to surrender to the “pull” you have on our lives to serve the people you have anointed us to serve. Bless the Black Women’s Roundtable, and their leader and our dear sister Melanie Campbell, as we engage in the work expressed in Isaiah 58:6-7, “to loose the chains of injustice…to set the oppressed free…to share our food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…to clothe the naked…and not to turn away from our own flesh and blood.” Amen