A Dialoque With Dr. Gordon Thompson, Father Keith Johnson And Adam Clayton Powell

gordon_thomspson_headshotBy Jackie Weatherspoons

Black History Month will be celebrated at St. Philips Church in collaboration with St. Philips Church Credit Union, RAP-SI  Reading, Achievement, Professionalism Success Institute a project of the CUNY BMI (Black Male Initiative). The mission of BMI is to increase, encourage, and support the retention and educational success of black males but open to all under-represented groups in higher education through peer mentoring, E-Mentoring, textbook loans and a Speaker Forum, to celebrate the 6th Anniversary of the life of and passion if State Senator Chuck Allen III Scholarship. The fund will support high School seniors and college student in Connecticut and New  York. The celebration will host a high level panel with the Honorable Adam Clayton Powell IV, Father Keith Johnson, St. Philips Church and Dr. Gordon Thompson covering the topic, “White Walls: Men of Color in Higher Education Speak” on February 23, 2014 1:00pm.

I thought it would be a great conversation before the “White Walls: Men of Color in Higher Education Speak,” I spoke to Dr. Gordon Thompson to ask her about the BMI Program,  and the upcoming event.

Jackie Weatherspoons: You have seen the growth of the BMI Program, do you think the Administration, Mayor and  the Federal government will continue to support the program?

Dr. Gordon Thompson: Excellent questions. While I am not fully aware of what the central administration of BMI has or hasn’t done in this regard, I will certainly put this question to them.

We have ever greater confidence that the mayor’s office and the City Council will support our program.  Bill De Blasio is a strong advocate of what we do as is his wife and several other key members of his administration. Councilman Barron was a major supporter of our program; now, if I have my facts straight, his wife Council Woman Barron is currently chair of the Educational Committee—a committee central in any budgetary issues that might impact BMI… this is obviously encouraging.

At City College, in particular, my project [Retention, Achievement, Professional Success Institute] RAP-SI (BMI) has met with the upper administration of the college.  We are grateful for the interest the Provost, specifically, is taking in our work.  We are also continuing to work with him and his staff to advance some key objectives related specifically to student in STEM disciplines.  RAP-Si, additionally, is primarily a mentoring program that refers student to other programs such as “tutoring” centers and such.

JW: What are your concerns as you see members of the BMI prepare to graduate? It is said unemployment is highest in our community? What do you see?


Get the best Harlem news in your inbox here.


DGT: It is clear that unemployment is highest in our community; but this is an effect that impacts BMI’s projects like RAP-SI from a distance since we see students who are both in school and employed.

Our concern is with 1) Keeping students in college; and 2) Helping them to maintain relatively high GPA’s, and 3) helping them to graduate in timely fashion.  We hope they are able to fine good work outside of college, but we are intensely interested in sending them on to graduate and/or profession school.

JW: Are you working with the business community and the Mayor to ensure, “startups” are happening with the young men in the BMI Program?

DGT: Working with the Mayor is part of what the senior administration at BMI manage.  As director of one project, RAP-SI at CCNY, I help where I can.

JW: Is there any conversations between Silicon Valley Companies and the BMI?

DGT: Again, I do not know enough to answer this question with any authority.  Suffice it to say that I do not converse with Silicon Valley, but we should.  It is possible that the senior administrators are in such conversations, but I do not have any independent knowledge of this.

JW: Thank you.

DGT: Thank you.

Questions and answers from Father Keith Johnson:

Jackie Weatherspoons: What role do you see St. Philips playing in reaching BMI males, Can you be part 2 of the Harlem’s Children Zone, going block to block as well?

Father Keith Johnson: St. Philips Church of Harlem is seeking to rebuild trust between us and the community,  we are now a commuter church.

We are working with Aka Rose, A DO, Marshall Arts Center, 4-6:00pm twice a week. We are involving them in  drumming, poetry, rhetoric and the Arts. It is really taking off. Through these actives we are mentoring. The partnership has been working well Since we began in November. We are trying to duplicate the Episcopal church and work with the Church of the Intercession, they know what works. I understand Harlem has a long history of being the life of the community we want to continue to bring that back.

JW: Are there any partnerships you can see developing with those in the business community?

FKJ: Yes, business community partnerships are needed, I envision us using our own t building next to the church and the air rights to build further up, to create a co-op of technology and arts for the community. Along the Frederick Douglass Blvd. corridor there are entire empty buildings. I would love to convince a company like Intel to build a plant along the corridor. We want to not only educate our kids in Harlem but we want to make this a community where they will want to live, have great jobs and a raise families. We don’t want them to leave. We need to create ways for them to stay. Poverty alleviation programs have never gone far enough.  We open restaurants and a schools, the money is made in the Tech Sector. Thurgood Marshall school ran the Robots Program this past year. We can do this in Harlem.

JW: Are there any partnerships you can see developing with those in the business community?

FKJ: Episcopal Charities has given us a,”Grant”, to work with the Harlem Community Justice Center on East 121st and Lexington. For the past two years we have been working,mentoring volunteering with males to make up for the steps they missed in their lives. We know that the point of departure for unwise choices begins for males at the age of ten. We know the path to success is school and careers that are not fully open to them.

JW: Words of Encouragement for BMI/RAPSI Males: Don’t Believe the Anti-Education Hype, fostered by the  Misery Loves Company. Blacks in America created the middle class around 1865-1875, from a strong belief in education and knowledge. We can continue to do that as well.

JW: Thank you.

DGT: Thank you.

Questions and answers from the Hon. Adam Clayton Powell IV:

Jackie Weatherspoons: Are you thinking about running for public office?

Adam Clayton Powell IV:  Yes, I am thinking about running.

JW: What ideas do you have to grow the BMI in Harlem?

ACP: Head Start Program and Pres-school programs very important, It starts there. Once again a very healthy debate is ongoing between the Mayor and the Governor. I welcome these conversations. My father initiated,  these programs and secured funding during the 60’s. I want to also  encourage and tell young men to understand the power of new technology, surveillance issues, be mindful they are being watched, tracked on line and in the streets and their social networks.  “Once we make a mistake, it is an unforgiving society”, so stay straight, do the right thing and peruse technology through education.

JW: There are chapters in NYC of Black Girls Code, which not only attempts to bridge the digital divide put seeks to make sure girls are prepared to code and come up with solutions, have you thought about the needs of black men in the digital economy, NPR recently said, this is where the future jobs are?

ACP: The digital economy can alleviate poverty and provide a better economy at the  even at the entry level can produce higher paying jobs.

JW: Words of encouragement for Men of Color: Stay in school, high school is not enough, at least a bachelors, do as much as you can with the opportunity, where you go to school will be talked about for the rest of your life, take advantage of every opportunity?

JW: Thank you.

DGT: Thank you.

The “White Walls: Men of Color in Higher Education Speak,” event will take place on February 23, 2014 1:00pm, at St. Philips Church, 204 W 134th St. New York, NY 10030. 212.862.4940

The Hon. Jackie K. Weatherspoon, served six years in the NH H of R. Her grandparents, her mom and seven  aunts and uncles grew up around the corner from St. Philips during the 1930’s. When in NY Jackie and her husband Russell D. Weatherspoon, the Dean of Multicultural Affairs at Phillips Exeter Academy in NH make St. Philips their second home.

Leave a Reply