Somebody say amen!

Is the black man worth loving?"
The question hung over the crowd gathered in the pews of Jubilee United Methodist Church on a recent Friday night, a promise and a paradox. To each of the 125 African-American men and women, the answer was obvious. Yet here was Robert Ashley, well-known radio personality from KHVN, prodding them to consider the possibility of another answer.

Ashley, acting as moderator, walked up and down the aisles, microphone in hand Oprah-style, looking for people who wanted to talk. Yes, the question was rhetorical, he said, but think about it. "Did Felicia (Moon) think Warren was lovable when he was choking her?" he asked. Did Nicole Brown Simpson think O.J. was lovable when he beat her? What about all those nameless brothers who have loved and cruelly left countless black sisters? he asked. Are they lovable?

The crowd muttered, some in assent, some in incredulity. These were not lovable cases. Ashley then looked to the stage where three panelists--two men and a woman--waited to give their opinions. Reginald Woods, associate pastor for St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, spoke first.

"The black man is definitely worth loving," Woods said, "but part of this love comes from understanding who we are. Do you really know where this man is coming from?"

If you look at the individual cases, you can find lots of reasons why the black man isn't worth loving, Woods admitted, but you can't write off all black men because of the sins of a vivid few.

The audience murmured in agreement, with a couple of amens thrown in. This was church, after all.

Then Ashley stirred up the audience again. What is it about black women and men with money? "Why is it that they only seem to want men who drive a nice car and have lots of green?" he asked.

The men in the audience roared their agreement. The other male panelist, Arthur Gregg, a counselor at Eastfield Community College in Mesquite, said a woman often will look down on a nice man who only has one thin dime, "but if I don't make nothing but a dime, then there's some woman who will want that.

"Money doesn't buy you happiness, but it does make happiness a little easier."

It was time for the lone woman on the panel to speak. The Rev. Sheron Patterson acknowledged that there are many women who look at a man's financial status as a basis for a relationship, but it is all part of the pressure they feel to get a husband and get married.

"There is a mild panic in the black community" among women, she said. "The biological time clock is ticking. You're 35 years old and you want to get married. Bad. That's where this money comes in."

The audience erupted. There were yells of assent from women while the men were shaking their heads. Hands were up, and Ashley was walking around to let people talk.

On stage, Patterson looked over the audience members of her church and smiled. They were talking, and perhaps through talking they could begin to stop hurting and eventually heal.

The intergenerational rap session is called the Love Clinic, the Rev. Sheron Patterson's creation. It's a monthly workshop dealing with relationship issues pertinent to the African-American community. The clinic touts itself as a project to help heal the hurts of the African-American community with dialog and prayer.

Patterson believes, more than that, that she is recapturing a part of people's spiritual lives that the church has been neglecting: the personal. "People were living in the grips of desperationEgrabbing ahold of somebody who doesn't want them or being a fool in a relationship that leaves them shattered and broken," she says. "A lot of churches weren't addressing their needs."

For more than a decade, Patterson has devoted her ministry to helping people see themselves and their relationships within the light of God. She knows well the frantic pangs and ill-conceived choices people can make when they are single.

Patterson seems a good candidate for a relationship adviser. The thirtysomething pastor looks more like your best girlfriend than a spiritual guide. With a bone-straight, chin-length bob and stylish granny glasses perched on the edge of her nose, she wears the latest clothes, choosing a black velvet dress to wear to a recent Love Clinic and later a black-and-gray wide-legged pants outfit for an interview. Her no-nonsense way of talking is suited to the job. She is animated, using her hands, and whole body even, to make a point. She comes across like the friend you always go to for advice, even though you know you'll hate it.

"That girl could be a Phi Beta Kappa in the classroom, but in life--she fails." Patterson is on the phone counseling a church member who is trying to get a friend out of an abusive situation. It hasn't been going well. The woman just wasn't ready to accept the truth.

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Kaylois Henry

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