Prophets Without Honor

The self-proclaimed ministers of capitalism have gotten a cool reception to their gospel in Dallas. But Chevis King Jr. and Joe Howard won't give up till they've found a better way to spend black people's money.

It is Sunday evening, and the church of the free market is in session. Joe Howard and Chevis King Jr. preach the word from their electronic pulpit--a biweekly radio show on KRLD-AM. This evening's sermon deals with what King calls "the exportation of socialism in Dallas."

"We are two black men fully grown, and we are here to stop the proliferation of socialism within the borders of Texas and America," King says in a folksy, measured oratory.

"That's right, Chevis," Howard says, sounding tougher, more urban. "Gosh, this is America."

As preachers they are understated. Think Tony Evans polish with T.D. Jakes fire. Their clothing is casual, yet meticulously kept--freshly laundered shirts, knife-pleat pants, and fedoras. They deal with one another as if they were an old married couple. They finish each other's thoughts and sentences. They get one another's jokes.

"Hey Joe--what do you call a misery merchant? What do you call somebody who just goes out and raises hell? I call him a county commissioner. I call him president of the NAACP."

"But Chevis, that is what they are trained to do," Howard counters. "Although I don't know what the commissioner is doing out there. I suspect it's because he has a boring job."

This night, parishioners ring through the main line to talk about the protest at Mayor Ron Kirk's home. About 40 people, led by NAACP president Lee Alcorn and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, had marched in front of the mayor's house in East Dallas protesting what they perceive as Kirk's lack of leadership. But Chevis King sees the whole scenario as a parable about the confusion that reigns in black Dallas.

"Let me tell you folks, when people aren't doing their jobs, they tend to distract and blame someone else," King says, sounding like an elder sage.

"It's not equality," Howard continues. "What we are working toward is equality. Stop raising hell. Drop your buckets like Booker T. Washington said, and help black folks get on down the road."

The best way to do this--according to this duo's Sunday-school prescription--is through practice and a devout belief in the free market. Howard and King say it's the way to lift black people from the misery they're in. It will revitalize neighborhoods, bring the unruly youngsters into line by providing them with jobs, create stronger families, rebuild self-esteem.

"When you practice pure capitalism, it creates an environment whereby that individual who is down on the bottom can one day see something that will spark him or her to rise up," King says later. He is animated now, caught up as the gospel he's preached for the last five years rolls out of him.

"There are black people who need this information," Howard continues, as if on cue. "If you want to change the condition of your neighborhood, City Hall can't do it. White folks won't help you. The people who live in the community are responsible for it. So how do you take care of that? Control consumer behavior. Strip-mine black consumerism. Sell people stuff."

It seems a simplistic solution to a problem that has vexed politicians, preachers, and activists alike. But mustard-seed faith has been known to move mountains--and Howard and King believe they were called to deliver this message. For the last five years, the duo have created a forum for their sermons in The Black Economic Times, a 10,000-circulation, twice-monthly paper that cheerleads for black entrepreneurs and extols the virtues of the free market. They have also tried to reach a listening audience through a two-hour radio show on KSKY, a low-powered AM station.

The results have been far less than dramatic. Few people heard the radio show, although it was broadcast weekly for four years. And their paper pulpit has only just this past year broken even, despite King's and Howard's meager salaries and resources.

But the pair think they've gotten their big break with KRLD's recent decision to pick up their show every other Sunday night. It's the first time, in fact, that they haven't had to pay to get on the air.

Like all good prophets, King and Howard say their trials are merely tests of faith--just like the fickle advertising, decrepit office space, lean finances, and what they perceive as a virtual boycott of them and their ideas by the leaders of black Dallas through a conspiracy of silence.

"We have been in the marketplace since 1992, and we listen. We don't hear Black Economic Times being mentioned," Howard says. "Which is really kind of bizarre. Those folks [in the black media] are talking about fairness and equity in reporting, yet they have not reached out for a balanced kind of information. They won't talk to us."

Their toiling hasn't gone completely unnoticed. Willis Johnson, host of the nationally syndicated show Impact and a popular early-morning host for KKDA-AM radio, says that King and Howard are necessary voices in Dallas' black community. While they are taking a different path to get there, they share the same goal as the city's traditional black leaders: improvement.

"I look at Chevis and Joe as castor oil," Johnson says. "It is a bitter pill, but in the long run it will clean out your system and will be good for you."

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