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October 27, 2013

Pastor Morris Shearin celebrates 25 years as pastor of Israel Baptist

Rev.-Morris-L.-Shearin-Sr.

I spent five hours today in Israel Baptist Church in northeast Washington helping to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the pastorship there of Rev. Morris L. Shearin, Sr. This ally and friend is a member of the national board of NAACP, which voted 62-2 in May of 2012 to support civil marriage equality.

Rev. Shearin is a humble and decent man, but he was not as comfortable on LGBT matters twenty years ago as president of the DC chapter of NAACP when he rejected a donation from the DC Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gay Men. But a few years later he empowered the chapter's political director, Mark Thompson, to create a task force to push for what became the DC Office of Police Complaints, and that involved reaching out to the ACLU, National Black Police Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. At the time, it was easier for me and GLAA to respond to Mark's bridge-building effort, since our friends at DC Coalition had so recently felt burned.

Over the years, trust and respect grew between Rev. Shearin and me. We had our friendship with Mark in common, as we followed Mark's career at Sirius/XM Radio. We would encounter each other in the church, in Mark's studio, or around town. It wasn't that Rev. Shearin and I got together and argued over gay marriage. But he did not stand in the way of the new generation of ministers and civil rights leaders, in whom he took pride. I believe that over time our simple perseverance together in good faith, along with countless similar journeys by others across the country, helped lay the groundwork on which national NAACP President Ben Jealous walked to victory in that boardroom last year.

Rev. Thompson, a former associate minister at Israel Baptist who now lives in Harlem, came down to Washington for the worship service Sunday morning. His tribute to Rev. Shearin included a recording from Mark's Sirius/XM radio broadcast of the moment at the 2008 Democratic National Convention when Barack Obama was nominated by acclamation while Rev. Shearin was with Mark in the convention hall and they gave emotional voice to the historic moment.

After the 3 1/2 hour service today, featuring much music and impassioned sermonizing, Mark and I talked about the film 12 Years a Slave (which we both saw in recent days) and what a magnificent achievement it is, and I marveled that Mark's 11-year-old son Menra had sat through its unflinching portrayal of the brutality of slavery with him. Mark recalled that he himself was Menra's age when he watched Roots. Then he had to catch a train back to NYC, while I joined a few hundred people for a repast in the fellowship hall.

The people of that church have always welcomed me. Who would have thought twenty years ago, after Rev. Shearin rejected that donation by the DC Coalition, that I would spend a good portion of this day there helping honor him? What a journey we have traveled. And after such a journey together, how could I not have been there today in my Sunday best? As I left the church at almost 4 pm to walk back to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro in the bright autumn afternoon, I thought how blessed I am to live in this town that so seldom stops to give itself credit. So congrats on 25 years to my friend Pastor Morris Shearin and the good people of Israel Baptist.

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