By Pam Hersh
Yes, Eddie Glaude Jr. is an internationally renowned scholar, who speaks to the complex social, racial and economic dynamics of the American experience.
Yes, Dr. Glaude is a professor and chair of the African American Studies Department at Princeton University.
Yes, he is the author of several critically acclaimed books, the most recent “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own,” released on June 30, 2020.
Yes, he is a political commentator on MSNBC with a worldwide pulpit.
No, “It does not follow,” said Dr. Glaude, that, even with these credentials, he “has all the answers” as to how to fix the devastation wreaked by American racism.
I was one of 123 people who had the honor of listening to Dr. Glaude speak at a Feb. 24 virtual Princeton Community Housing (PCH) event, raising money for PCH’s pandemic rental assistance program. The occasion featured Dr. Glaude in conversation with Rev. Lukata Mjumbe, PCH board member, veteran grassroots community organizer, public policy advocate, interfaith leader and community pastor at the Princeton Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
What Dr. Glaude does have, however, is a remarkable way of getting people to think about – and face – the truth of the American experience, expose the “big lie” of American equality and justice for all (which has not been for all), and inspire us to do better.
The answers, he told Rev. Mjumbe, have to come from the people living and working in the community. Princetonians may think that their community is a “cosmopolitan liberal space” that is without racism and treats everyone the same regardless of their economic status or skin color. That is part of the big lie. Princeton has problems, which are evident by just walking down Witherspoon Street and through the John Witherspoon neighborhood.
Rev. Mjumbe, who in 2013 studied under Dr. Glaude, when Dr. Glaude was teaching at the Princeton Theological Seminary, asked his mentor for guidance as to what ordinary citizens in the community can do to make a difference.
Reiterating that he did not have all the answers, Dr. Glaude suggested we all could start with an attitude adjustment achieved by: learning about the community’s racial history (the good, the bad and the ugly); listening to people outside of one’s social bubble; dropping the paternalistic “we know what is best for the downtrodden” mindset; and most importantly adopting an “infrastructure of caring” around health, housing, education and employment.
“Racial justice is not a philanthropic or charitable gesture; it is not yours to give, it is not a donation,” he said. It is something we all have to work at to achieve.
Although many in Princeton might feel uncomfortable with Dr. Glaude’s unadorned critique of the town’s moral core, Princeton Community Housing’s advocates should feel good that they are living up to Dr. Glaude’s infrastructure of caring principles. It is the organization’s entire raison d’être. Its recent campaign to raise money for rental assistance for those fiscally devastated by the pandemic, exemplifies the infrastructure of caring. PCH doesn’t judge or preach – it listens and acts. And the best endorsement of its mission came when Dr. Glaude, who spoke at the benefit without a fee, then also made a substantial gift to PCH. “He gave his time and then also pledged generously,” said PCH Executive Director Ed Truscelli.
Dr. Glaude and Rev. Mjumbe concluded the evening by joking how Feb. 24 was a very busy day for both of them. Dr. Glaude made eight presentations, Rev. Mjumbe six – their popularity driven by the fact that February is Black History Month. For me, Dr. Glaude’s and Rev. Mjumbe’s words of wisdom are for every month, every day – and ideally should serve as a daily vitamin providing the energy and perseverance to move forward in the right direction.
PCH provides, manages and advocates for affordable housing in Princeton. It will be possible to purchase a signed copy of Eddie Glaude Jr.’s book “Begin Again” until March 14. To purchase the book and/or make a donation – all proceeds go to the PCH COVID-19 Emergency Rent Relief Fund – visit www.pchhomes.org/