Sometimes Seeing is Believing: Reflections on Faith and the Black Family Because of the Obamas

Sometimes Seeing is Believing: Reflections on Faith and the Black Family Because of the Obamas

Sometimes Seeing is Believing: 
Reflections on Faith and the Black Family Because of the Obamas

The Reverend Bro. Jonathan C. Augustine, J.D., M.Div.*

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)

“[B]ecause thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet they have believed.”
John 20:29 (KJV)

I grew up in a Black family, during the 1970s and 80s, in inner-city New Orleans. Like so many Black children brought up in the Deep South at that time, I was repeatedly taught about the importance of faith. Indeed, the popular passage from Hebrews that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” was drilled into my mind and subconscious.

To be perfectly candid, because of what can only be termed as dysfunction in my childhood home, and because of the types of homes in which my first cousins grew-up, I did not have a personal familiarity with the “traditional” Black family. Please understand that my intended use of the term traditional contains absolutely no misogynistic or sexist undertones. My own mother worked as an educator and sacrificed to provide for me and my sister, notwithstanding the fact I grew-up in a two-parent home. Instead, my use of the term traditional is intended to describe a Black family where the husband and wife work collaboratively at raising children, while simultaneously pursuing common goals that are in the best interest of the family. Regrettably, based on my intended use of the term, my adolescent exposure to a traditional Black family was limited to the Huxtables, a two-parent family with whom I shared many special movements, courtesy of NBC, over the course of eight years. Now, as an adult, living in a blended family—arguably the new definition of traditional—my wife, Michelle, and I have faith that not only what our two children see in us, but also in the Obama Family, will influence their personal notions of what a traditional Black family is supposed to be.

In playing on Hebrews’ popular passage about faith, as I reflect on the Black America I knew as a child, I could only have faith that traditional Black families actually existed, considering they were not something I had personally seen. In reflecting on today, however, notwithstanding my children’s personal familiarity with my definition of “traditional,” I am delighted by the blessing of what they have seen for the last eight years—the vast majority of their young lives—in how special a traditional Black family can be. This overwhelmingly positive influence, in the form of a faith that has come to fruition, has redefined expectations not only for me, but for an entire generation. This has only been possible because of President Barack Obama and the overwhelmingly positive influence resulting from his “traditional” First Family.

In John 20, as Jesus appears to his disciples sometime after the resurrection, Thomas becomes overwhelmed with amazement and only after seeing Jesus, professes his belief. In many regards, I am much like Doubting Thomas. Because I have now seen the positive influences of a traditional Black Family—where both mother and father are attentive to their children and collaboratively work to better their children’s lives—I now believe. Because I have also seen mutual support, encouragement and a familial pursuit of excellence, I now believe. Because I have seen a Black man who is secure enough in his masculinity to be openly affectionate with his family, while simultaneously being tough enough to take out international terrorists who threatened his family’s safety, I now believe. Indeed, I am quite a bit like Doubting Thomas because I had never before seen a Black family so loving, but at the same time so driven for personal and professional excellence, that I can now believe traditional is in fact possible. In many regards, therefore, I am proud to be like Doubting Thomas. Because I have now seen, I also have new standards on what should be normal and “traditional” in Black America. More importantly, my children can also believe because of everything they have seen.

I give special thanks to the Obamas for not only bringing my childhood faith to fruition, but more importantly, for showing my children, and an entire generation, what a “traditional” Black family should be.

 The Reverend Bro. Jonathan C. Augustine [Beta ‘91] is the 46th Senior Pastor of Historic St. James AME Church in New Orleans, National Chaplain of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and a member of the Fraternity’s Sigma Lambda Chapter. Bro. Augustine may be reached via Twitter at @jayaugustine9 or via email at

Fighting Together After Transition: A Theological Reflection on the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fighting Together After Transition: A Theological Reflection on the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fighting Together After Transition:  A Theological Reflection on the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

by The Reverend Bro. Jonathan C. Augustine*

In Deuteronomy 34, the Israelites were faced with transition.  Although Moses was shown the Promised Land, he was not allowed to reach it with the very people he was chosen to lead.  Instead, God raised up Joshua as a new leader, to ensure there would be effective leadership, as the Israelites worked together to fight against their enemies and reach their Promised Land.

Just as the Israelites were faced with transition in Deuteronomy, Black America was faced with transition in April 1968.  Just as God picked Moses to lead the Israelites against the forces of Pharaoh’s oppressive injustice, God did the same in picking our Alpha brother, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to lead Black America against the oppressive forces of Jim Crow.  Just as Moses led in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Bro. King did the same, successfully leading God’s people through the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the social oppression necessitating passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Just as Deuteronomy 34:10 proclaims that never since has there been a prophet among the Israelites like Moses, the same might be said of Bro. King’s leadership in the Black community. When God ordered Moses’ transition, Deuteronomy 34:8 tells us that the people wept for 30-days and then the mourning ended.  It was then, after transition, that the Israelites came together to fight for the advancement of their people.

In the biblical cannon, Deuteronomy is followed by the books of Joshua and Judges, chronicling how the Israelites honored Moses’ legacy by fighting together, against their enemies, to reach the Promised Land.  Just as God showed the Promised Land of Canaan to Moses, and the Israelites fought to reach it, the same can be said of God’s revelation to Bro. King, considering his famous August 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, heralding America to become a true melting pot of social acceptance, egalitarianism, and communal respect.  Indeed, just as the Israelites worked together to fight against their enemies after Moses’ transition, the same can be said for much of Alpha Phi Alpha’s work after Bro. King’s April 1968 transition to the church triumphant.

Some might argue that Bro. King’s dream became a reality with the 2008 and 2012 elections, and successful two-term administration, of Barack Obama as the United States’ first Black president.  Others, however, might argue that the undercurrent of racism, sexism, classism, and xenophobia that surfaced during the 2016 presidential election cycle—along with the many senseless deaths that sparked the Black Lives Matter Movement—is proof that Bro. King’s dream of America reaching her Promised Land is far from reality.

Eight years ago, in January 2009, many claimed America had fought through racial and social struggles to reach her Promised Land, as Obama was inaugurated only one day after the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebration.  In January 2017, however, as America

approaches observance of the same annual holiday, occurrences during President Obama’s administration make it readily apparent that, just like the Israelites with Moses, America is still wandering in the wilderness.

My sincere prayer for Alpha Phi Alpha is that it will do just as the Israelites did after Moses’ transition—in anticipating President Obama’s transition from the White House and honoring Bro. King’s transition to be with Moses—by working together to fight against the threats and enemies standing in the way of America reaching her Promised Land.  For some Alphas, doing like the Israelites means working together through Project Alpha and fighting against the dearth of Black male role models.  For other Alphas, the fight might be through the political engagement of A Voteless People is a Hopeless People to ensure those that have paid their debt to society have the opportunity to fully participate therein.  Regardless of how one chooses to fight through Alpha, in paraphrasing General President Ward, my prayer is that during the upcoming King Holiday observances, brothers recommit to fighting because “Alpha Phi Alpha doesn’t run from a fight; Alpha runs to it!”

This King Holiday, we should all honor our departed brother, by doing just as did the Israelites when faced with Moses’ transition and work together to fight against the enemies facing our people.

Alpha Inaugurates 35th General President in the “Gate City”

Alpha Inaugurates 35th General President in the “Gate City”



Baltimore, MD (January 6, 2017)—Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the world’s oldest intercollegiate fraternity founded by African-American men, hosted its inauguration of its 35th general president in “Gate City,” Greensboro, North Carolina. The Gate City hosted Alpha and its more than 700 guests from around the world, who took part in 3 days of leadership development and official installation programs. The theme of the inaugural weekend was The Urgency of Now.

The new duly elected 35th general president of Alpha Phi Alpha is Everett B. Ward Ph.D. He has been actively involved in the fraternity and in leadership at the chapter, district, and regional level for 30 years. He is currently the president of Saint Augustine University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Dr. Ward was named the eleventh president of Saint Augustine’s University on April 10, 2015, by the board of trustees. Ward is an active philanthropist, supporting issues that are critical to families and communities. In addition to his volunteer leadership to Alpha Phi Alpha, Ward also serves as vice chairman of the Association of Episcopal Colleges. He also is a member of the board of directors of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). In addition, he is a member of the Sigma Pi Phi Boule.

“I am excited about the opportunity to lead the men of Alpha Phi Alpha as our 35th general president,” said Ward. “Given the state of our country and all of the challenges that we face, we have a tremendous opportunity to ensure that the voices of our people are not forgotten. In partnership with our fellow Greek-letter organizations and concert with other national organizations, we will take a bold stand on issues that are in the best interest of our communities.”

Jeff Johnson, award-winning journalist, communications specialist and chief strategist for JIJ Communications, also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, facilitated a public policy forum. The forum spoke to the role of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in addressing some of today’s most pressing civil rights and social justice issues in African-American communities around the nation.

Previous men to hold the position of general president of the 110-year-old community service fraternity include Ozell Sutton, civil rights activist; Raymond W. Cannon, NAACP attorney; and Ernest Morial, mayor of New Orleans, La.

Alpha Introduces Its New Executive Director: Brother Jamie R. Riley, Ph.D.

Alpha Introduces Its New Executive Director: Brother Jamie R. Riley, Ph.D.

Greetings my dear brothers,

It is with great pleasure that the board of directors announces its unanimous decision to select Brother Jamie R. Riley, Ph.D. [Beta Omicron ’03] as the next executive director of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. His hiring becomes effective today January 3, 2017.

Brother Riley has been a leader most of his life, dating back well before his college days at Tennessee State University, where he was initiated into Alpha through Beta Omicron Chapter in 2003. While in Nashville, he earned his Bachelor of Science in healthcare administration and planning and his Master of Education leadership concentration in administration and supervision. He earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in counseling and student personnel services from the University of Georgia in 2011.

Brother Riley comes to Alpha Phi Alpha from Johns Hopkins University where he served as the associate dean of Student Life for Diversity and Inclusion. His administrative skills have been demonstrated in previous positions, including having served as the assistant dean of students and director of the LEAD Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Brother Riley has focused his research and administrative practice on addressing the impact of culturally oppressive campus climates on the success of African-American and black male college students attending predominantly white institutions. Jamie’s doctoral dissertation, titled; Racism, Discrimination, and Prejudice: Through the Voices of Black Men on Predominately White College Campuses, investigated the impact of race and racism on African-American and black male students ability to thrive academically, socially, and developmentally.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Brother Riley is also a member of 100 Black Men of America and has held membership in several alumni chapters including Tau Lambda (Nashville, TN), Rho Kappa Lambda (Gwinnett County, GA), Iota Tau Lambda (Farmville, VA), Gamma Phi Lambda (Berkeley, CA), and most recently, Delta Lambda in Baltimore, MD. Brother Riley has also served as an Alpha and/or campus advisor for several chapters at colleges and universities across the country.

Alpha’s new executive director has very high expectations for himself and for the fraternity. He says, “I think it is crucial that we streamline processes and procedures to align with the fraternal organizational structure and the needs of individual brothers. The General Office is the place where brothers should come to find solutions and answers in a timely fashion. Our staffing has to be adequate to meet the needs of brothers, chapters, districts, regions, and the general body all at the same time. I believe the better utilization of technology and personnel will help us to achieve that and much more.”

Brother Riley also has strong ideas to bring Alpha together and to bridge the gaps between new brothers and those who have experienced longevity in the fraternity. He wants to work with the executive leadership to develop initiatives that assist college brothers in their transition from college to professional life.

We have great confidence in Brother Riley and you will as well. Please join us in welcoming him to his new chapter in the history of Alpha Phi Alpha!


Brother Everett B. Ward, Ph.D.
General President