When Jamal Parris and Spencer LaGrande (pictured) sat down for an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, they stepped into a harsh spotlight that will follow them for the rest of their lives. They are two of the brave young men who, along with Maurice Robinson, Anthony Flagg, and Centino Kemp, accused Bishop Eddie Long, the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, of sexual abuse.
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In the extremely vulnerable and candid conversation, they explained how an alleged “Man of God” manipulated them into unhealthy dependent relationships as children — relationships that turned sexual at their individual ages of consent.
I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head, and I cannot forget the smell of his cologne, and I cannot forget the way that he made me cry when I drove in his cars on the way home, not able to take enough showers to get the smell of that man off my body, says Parris, 24.
That man cannot look in my eyes and tell me that we did not live this pain: you are not a man, you are a monster.
Though the cases were settled late last May in mediation, Parris and LaGrande risked losing out on an undisclosed amount of money by speaking out — something the young men could care less about. Both men say that the money is nothing compared to the pain and hurt that New Birth’s shepherd has caused them.
He did teach us good things, LeGrande said, but something had to be wrong with him.
Both Parris and LaGrande were abandoned by their fathers at an early age, and Long stepped in and fulfilled a need that had long been neglected.
I didn’t have a dad my whole life, LeGrande said. Just to have a man love me for who I was … I had to love him back.
Long, 58, has consistently denied the disturbing allegations, claiming that the only reason that he settled out of court was so that he “could move forward with God’s ministry.” Yet, the men are adamant that Long wined and dined them from Honduras to Kenya, buying them vehicles and paying for tuition, before ultimately demanding his unholy price.
Let me alienate you from all that you knew, describes Parris as Long’s tactic. You’re not allowed to talk to females. You’re isolated. Everyone thinks you’ve abandoned them.
Unfortunately, Parris and LaGrande are not as unique as many would think. Cases of sexual abuse within the African-American community are often either ignored, denied, or minimized, even as the ugly truth stares us in the face. Robin D. Stone, author of “No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse,” discusses the silent issue in the African-American community and shares some startling facts about one of its best kept secrets:
Race matters: African-American women are less likely than white women to involve police in cases of child sexual abuse. Fears about betraying the family by turning abusers into “the system” and distrust of institutions and authorities often lead blacks to remain silent about “family business.” Boys are also abused: About 14 percent of all young victims of sexual assault are male, according to police reports. Among African Americans, homophobia perpetuates the denial of sexual abuse of boys. Cause and effect: Black women report being more severely abused with greater force. They also report “more upset, greater long-term effects and more negative life experiences” from sexual abuse than white women. Among the effects: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-mutilation and more.
What becomes clear when looking at these statistics in context is that the loud silence that pulsates in the African-American community when the subject of rape and sexual abuse is discussed should almost be expected. We have had to heal our own wounds for so long, that it seems somehow wrong to utilize a system that has been designed to see us — especially our men — fail. On November 10, 1963, human-rights activist Malcolm X delivered his empowering speech, “Message to the Grassroots,” in Detroit, Michigan. Integral to his focal point of unity was the underlying order that Black America should never “air our dirty laundry” in public, especially within view of White America, was crystal clear. To do so was considered not only treasonous, but also detrimental to our progression as a people and brother Malcolm was not afraid to tell us so:
…Don’t let the enemy know that you got [sic] a disagreement. Instead of us airing our differences in public, we have to realize we’re all the same family. And when you have a family squabble, you don’t get out on the sidewalk. If you do, everybody calls you uncouth, unrefined, uncivilized, savage. If you don’t make it at home, you settle it at home; you get in the closet — argue it out behind closed doors. And then when you come out on the street, you pose a common front, a united front. And this is what we need to do in the community, and in the city, and in the state. We need to stop airing our differences in front of the white man.
There is a misguided sense of loyalty, fear of societal retribution, and yes, even a lingering homophobia that paralyzes many of us when it comes to reporting sexual abuse against our children, especially our boys. We must realize that our archaic subscription to “what happens in our community stays in our community” is harming our next generation of men:
I’m fighting not to pull the trigger, Parris said. I’d love to take pills and never wake up.
As many in the New Birth congregation continue to show their unwavering support for a man who has not only violated the trust of these young men, but also the honor of the position he holds, Edmund Burke‘s words of advice apply here:
“All that is necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.”
We owe it to ourselves, and to our children, to take a stand against child predators and sexual abusers — it doesn’t matter if they preach in the pulpit every Sunday or not.
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