One of the most interesting bloggers on the Everyday Citizen blogsite has been Gerald Britt. Rev. Britt is a graduate of Harvard University’s Summer Leadership Institute and taught about community organizing at Yale University’s fellowship program for public housing administrators. He served as pastor of New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church for 22 years. As a preacher, he has performed chapel services for the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox.
Rev. Britt writes a monthly column for the Dallas Morning News, and contributes to his blogsite Change the Wind. Rev. Britt serves on a number of Boards of Directors in areas that include, health and wellness, community and institutional organizing as well as ministry. He is one of the founders of the local network of the Industrial Areas Foundation (Dallas Area Interfaith), as well as the African-American Pastors’ Coalition and the Baptist Ministers Conference. Gerald currently serves as the VP of Public Policy & Community Program Development for City Square (formerly called Central Dallas Ministries).
In 1996 Rev. Britt was awarded the Coca-Cola African-American Heroes Award. He is also a recipient of the Mickey Leland Human and Civil Rights Award by the Texas State Teachers Association for his work in public education.
Reverand Britt, thank you very much for this interview. You are a graduate of Harvard University’s Summer Leadership Institute. What was that experience like? What did you learn during your time in the Leadership Institute?
Regarding the Harvard SLI, it was an amazing experience! It was the initial class, almost 15 years ago and I still work and live out some of what I learned there. The fact that we were at Harvard and those of us who were in that initial class (about 40), were overwhelmed by the opportunity. I was a pastor then, so along with the opportunity to dialogue with some of great intellects of our age and learn more about how to impact change in our communities, I was struck at how professors, from nearly every school at Harvard expressed admiration towards us for our ability to lead congregations and engage in the work of rebuilding our communities. Evelyn Higgenbotham, gave a few of us a ride to the Harvard Club for the final ceremony and she thanked us, telling us how our work was an inspiration to her and her colleagues. I’ve never forgotten that, it was tremendous and timely encouragement for all of us.
I’ve always been curious to know how a person becomes a minister. How did you know that the pastorship was the path for you? What has your spiritual journey been like?
I became a minister in 1975, preaching my first sermon a few weeks before my graduation from high school. I frankly knew that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I can only explain it as a tremendous desire to serve God in that capacity that I could not shake.
In your work in Central Dallas Ministries, you help the poor and the homeless in the community. Would you tell us a little more about what Central Dallas Ministries does?
By the way, you’ve asked about Central Dallas Ministries – we are now ‘CitySquare’. We changed our name a few years ago. We are engaged in some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. We are a social justice, social service organization that works on issues of poverty. We address those issues through advocacy and direct service. We do job training, housing for the homeless, a food pantry, health care services, legal services and services for kids as they age out of foster care. Last year, we served more than 40,000 unduplicated individuals in all of our programs.
In public policy we address issues related to our programming or our organization’s values. So, it may look like our agenda is all over the map, but that’s because issues related to poverty aren’t always one issue problems. My role is supervising programs and setting the public policy agenda.
What has it been like serving as Senior Pastor for the New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church? What have been the highs and lows of life as a Senior Pastor? How has New Mont Moriah Baptist Church changed over the years?
I was called to pastor the New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church 7 years after that, when my predecessor was killed in a car accident. In the pastoral ministry, I learned how to be open to God and what I felt he wanted me to do. Believe me, neither the direction my ministry took, or where I am now was nowhere on my radar. It has all happened by doing what I felt God was calling me to do next.
As a pastor, I learned how to lead and I learned how to listen. I learned how to project vision and I learned how to deal with opposition. I learned not to get discouraged when things didn’t go the way I planned. And I learned to persevere through personal problems, as well as those I encountered as a pastor. It was not easy, and I didn’t learn those lessons perfectly, but I learned as much from the people I tried to lead, as they did from me – probably more!
One of my favorite blogs of yours was one that was published on August 20, 2009 entitled “The Prose of Citizenship” (http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2009/08/the_prose_of_citizenship.html). It’s a wonderful blog on civic activism, on the need of citizens to be involved, to organize and to speak out. Have you seen more people get involved in the Dallas area in the 4 years of the Obama administration? Do you think civic activism is important in the Christian community?
I’m glad you liked the ‘Prose of Citizenship’ post. I love Mario Cuomo! I wish I was as eloquent as he is! But his illustration tells us a great deal about what most Obama supporters didn’t understand – it’s not enough to elect a President. You’ve got to support him or her throughout their presidency. We like the speeches and the crowds and in Obama’s case, what we saw was unprecedented – that was the ‘poetry’…but the hard work of following his policies, organizing around them, pressing legislators to pass laws supporting them,were the things we didn’t do. We expected him to do it all by fiat or something!
With the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement, more people are joining these grassroots social movements. What are your thoughts on these movements? Have there been any Occupy groups active in the Dallas area?
What the Tea Party and Occupy movements got right, for all of their flaws, is that you must be engaged and stay engaged. Question how they got engaged. Question their motives. But, Tea Partiers were right to organize in opposition to policies they didn’t agree with. The sad thing is it took Obama supporters so long to organize FOR the policies THEY believe in!
How long now have you been doing your monthly column for the Dallas Morning News? What has been the interactions like been with your readers?
I’ve written for the Morning News for several years. On and off I’ve written op-ed pieces since about ’91. Only in the past two-three years have I written a monthly column. It is a challenge! But I love doing it. I tell people, ‘I love having written’. I love it more after I’ve finished than while I’m doing it. As far as the readers are concerned – I’m really surprised at how many people (and WHO) reads my column. I was at a political forum a few weeks ago and the Mayor made a point of telling me that he had read my column and he thought it was very good. That can be heady stuff!
Of course there are those who don’t agree and that’s fine. I realize now that I don’t have to reply to everyone who responds. Surprisingly, those who agree, or appreciate the perspective are the ones I don’t here from unless I meet them.
Recently I read on your Facebook page a series of comments with your Facebook friends on the recent Trayvon Martin controversy. Would you tell me about the reactions of many African Americans to this tragedy?
As far as the Trayvon Martin case, I think that it’s clear that we overwhelmingly feel that there was an injustice in the police failing to make an arrest. And for generations of young black men, whose experience with profiling is much more extensive than mine, the idea that such a practice could ultimately lead to their death was driven home. There were some people who were clearly racist, who had to figure out a way to paint Trayvon as ‘other’ in because this made some whites see such accusations as another attempt to make them feel guilty. That’s ridiculous. What nearly all responsible parties called for was an arrest and a trial, if warranted, based on the evidence. Failure to make that the first resort, led to the protests.
What was it like performing services for sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox. What are the players like? Is there a difference between football players and baseball players?
Preaching to the pro teams was heady stuff! Imagine you’re in the room preaching to the Cowboys Teams of ’90’s! Or Juan Gonzales, Pudge Rodriquez – or on the other side Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart! It was really something. And yet you realize these guys all were trying to keep their lives in balance and they needed the same thing I needed to do that – they needed a relationship with Jesus Christ. That is humbling! Knowing that, makes it a lot like almost any other preaching opportunity or Bible lesson. They didn’t all live up perfectly to their profession of faith, but then again, neither did my members who heard me every week. For that matter neither do I!
The players were all very nice. They all expressed thanks for taking time to share in worship with them. Baseball players really weren’t different – maybe a little more loose than football players. The challenge was, if I would preach to the Cowboys, or Steelers, or Jaguars, it was just to that particular team. If I preached to the Rangers, I would preach to them AND the opposing team. So I would preach to the Oakland A’s in the visitors locker room and then go preach to the Rangers.
The guy that would invite me to do that was the Executive Director of Athletes in Action, John Webber. John died in 2007. The last time I preached for the Rangers, I took my son with me and he and I went to the game afterwards. Jason, was in his late 20’s early 30’s then. After the service for the players, John Wettland, catcher for the Rangers, John Webber, my son and I stayed around for almost an hour and half just talking about some of everything! It was a great time.
Jason was killed the same year that John died, so that has become a very special memory for me.
What would you recommend to a person who is visiting Dallas for the first time? What are some things that you would recommend to a tourist visiting Texas?
It is very hard to tell tourists what to see when they come to Dallas, because living here makes you so used to everything! Everyone who comes to Dallas comes to eat and shop! We have great restaurants here. But come see Victory Plaza, the Book Depository where Kennedy was assassinated (next year is the 50th anniversary and we’re trying to decide how to commemorate that). Of course you have to see Cowboys’ Stadium – believe it or not, the screens over the field, cost as much as the old Texas Stadium cost to build! Come see CityWalk at Akard, where I work, I’ll take you around from there (smile)!
A youtube video of Reverend Gerald Britt gives the closing reflection on the steps of CitySquare. April 22, 2011
Three youtube videos of Rev. Gerald Britt, Vice President for Public Policy, CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries), speaking on the topic of “Justice, the Church and Public Policy.” Thursday, March 10, 2011, Northaven United Methodist Church
A youtube video of Reverend Gerald Britt discussing Destination Home that fights poverty and homelessness
A youtube video of Rev. Gerald Britt and the Unify South Dallas dialoguing with the Dallas Mayor on Economic Development
Here are more interviews that I did for Everyday Citizen
An Interview With Cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards
An Interview With Poet, Activist, and Teacher Diane Wahto
An Interview With Cartoonist Jesse Springer
An Interview With Cartoonist Steve Greenberg
An Interview With Eric Wilks
An Interview With Cartoonist Greg Beda
An Interview With Poet Melissa Tuckey
An Interview With Cartoonist Andy Singer
An Interview With Author Robert Balmanno
An Interview With Cartoonist J.P. Jasper
An Interview With Cartoonist David Cohen