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A black man's dilemma

Politics | Clenard Childress has been a Democrat, a Republican, and now is running as an Independent. And he's still looking for a party to address the real issues African-Americans face

Issue: "Four horsemen of the apocalypse," Oct. 4, 2008

MONTCLAIR, N.J.-During the Democratic National Convention this year, Clenard Childress attended a pro-life protest that took a humorous turn. An African-American pastor from Montclair, N.J., Childress and the other protesters left their signs against a gate at Denver's Planned Parenthood while they prayed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park across the street.

"And all of a sudden I hear Alan Keyes, who had been driving away, running down the street, yelling at the top of his voice, 'Thief! Thief!'" Childress remembered. Keyes rushed onto Planned Parenthood's grounds and wrestled two of their signs away from a security guard. The other protesters followed.

"There was a standoff now: security and us," said Childress. "Flip Benham steps out on the grounds, points his finger at security and says, 'We can do this two ways. Either you can go get the signs and give them back to us or we're going to get the signs.'"

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The security guard backed down.

Why is a 55-year-old black clergyman protesting the convention that nominated the first black candidate for president? Childress said opposing Barack Obama is one of the most difficult decisions his pro-life principles have required him to make. While a recent poll found that 76 percent of black voters support Obama, other African-American pro-lifers have joined Childress in vocal opposition to Obama, including Day Gardner of the National Black Pro-Life Union, and Alveda King, pro-life activist and niece to Martin Luther King Jr.

African-American pastors-Levon Yuille, Kim Daniels, Gilbert Coleman, and John W. Stephenson-told The Washington Times they struggle to educate their African-American congregations on Obama's pro-abortion record. Johnny Hunter of Life Education and Resources Network, pro-life pastor Stephen Broden, and Jesse Lee Peterson of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, have also publicly spoken against Obama.

Childress' decision is part of a life-long passion for social justice. Born and raised in Montclair, a town of about 38,000 half an hour from New York City, Childress was interested in civil rights and social justice from an early age. "I grew up with H. Rap Brown, Hughie Newton, the Panther Movement, and Louis Farrakhan," said Childress, who now pastors New Calvary Baptist Church in his hometown. "[Farrakhan] came to our school to speak and I was very much moved by his rhetoric." In the seventh grade, he joined black students who were bused to predominantly white schools. In high school, Childress protested the firing of an African-American teacher and rallied for more African-American teachers and black studies.

"I was questioning life and the justice system and really what life was all about, the significance of life and why we were here," said Childress. "It was very timely of God to grab me when He did." Childress' conversion to Christianity as a college student deepened his passion for social justice and also changed it: "I realized that true justice can only come by God implementing it and using man to bring it. We had to be in communion with God to bring about justice-true justice."

Childress has a map of the United States on his wall with a thumbtack for every place where he's participated in social activism. There are thumbtacks in 21 states from coast to coast. He joined pro-life causes in 1995 when a pro-life leader learned from a high-school student that Childress counseled against abortion. The woman asked him to be involved in what she called the "pro-life movement." "I didn't even know what she was talking about," Childress said.

He agreed, mostly to be nice, and attended a Life Education and Resources Network conference. He went only because it took place at a 700 Club campus, and he considers Pat Robertson a hero: "After all, who wants to sit up and talk about abortion all day?"

Then he heard a presentation about Margaret Sanger's project to introduce sterilization and abortion to the black community and discovered that abortion disproportionately affected the African-American community.

"I've never been as stunned hearing information before," Childress said. Today, hundreds of thousands of black babies are aborted each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one in every two African-American pregnancies ends in abortion. According to the Allan Guttmacher Institute, African-American women are nearly five times more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have an abortion.

Learning this turned Childress into a pro-life activist, he said. In the past 13 years, he's collected plenty of colorful anecdotes along with becoming a pro-life leader. At an Ohio State University protest, counter-protesters rushed them from both directions so a girl holding a six-inch knife could run at the signs and deface them. "The knife refused to puncture the sign, which affected my group very much. They thought it was a miracle," Childress said.

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