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Fit For a New Age

OneBlack news - “ask not what your country can do for you – opinion  on "ask what you can do for your country" of the most famous sound-bites of the twentieth century came from the then 35th President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy. In his 1961 inaugural address which reflected upon the struggles and triumphs of the past, the responsibilities of the present and the hope of the future, he challenged the next American generation(s) to "ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." In our present time this challenge rings relevant in many ways.

What is it that we can do proactively to not just help our individual selves, but rather the larger community and society, which we, ourselves are part? The notion of seeking to help others in order to help ourselves, or the idea of bearing one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2) is biblical and is offered throughout the biblical text. In the Hebrew Bible book of Genesis, Cain murders his brother, Abel, as a result of jealousy. Both offered a sacrifice to God, whereas Cain, unlike his brother, did not offer his best. God confronted Cain asking him where his brother, Abel, was. Cain replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Sacrificing for others was the whole mission of Christ. Despite our faith tradition, are we offering God, our community, our society, ourselves, our best? I think this challenge is best captured in the words of the great Civil Right's leader and humanitarian, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Addressing his fellow Atlantans at Big Bethel A.M.E. Church on January 1st, 1957,King challenged the audience to reflect upon an 1871 lecture given by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Ralph Waldo Emerson said in a lecture back in 1871 that if a man can write a better book, or preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse trap than his neighbor, even if he builds a house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."


King's challenge asserted that in consideration of the strides toward integration, preparation must be made for a new age not to merely become a good Negro doctor, or a good Negro lawyer, or a good Negro teacher, or a good Negro minister, or a good Negro skilled laborer, "but [rather] go out to do a good job irregardless of race, for we will be forced now to compete with people. And then decide to do your job well, whatever it is."

Echoing the words of Dr. Benjamin Mays, King continues:

"As I used to hear Dr. Mays say at Morehouse College, 'Do your job so well that the living, the dead or the unborn could do it no better. . .'"

These words defy the mentality of victimization and blame which so characteristically sums up many of us today. What is our God given talent, ability, drive, determination and commitment; what will and can we do that will affect not only our plight and path, but achieve a greater good to our larger society?

The barber who is known throughout the community is not just a place where you can receive a good cut, but this becomes or can become a positive place of fellowship where male mentorship and a kind of rite of passage takes place. Are we fit for a new age?

Are we technologically savvy, computer literate, and familiar with current affairs and geo-politics (what is your take on the BP oil crisis in the Gulf or with the immigration bill status in Arizona)? Are we language savvy (monolingual, bilingual or even trilingual which may or may not affect your immediate community)? What will it take for you to become fit for this new age?

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Scholar-in-Residence at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, GA and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center, also in Atlanta. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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