Jul. 22, 2013
When Gregory Ellison stood on a chair in Candler’s largest classroom July 20 and recited the first few paragraphs from his new book, Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men, it became clear this wasn’t going to be your average book reading. He had invited more than a dozen guests by name to join him down front, and they had formed a rough circle, bowing their heads in contemplation. As Ellison began his dramatic reading, rarely referring to the text itself, the effect was mesmerizing.
Ellison, Candler’s assistant professor of pastoral care and counseling, was leading his first in a series of “Fearless Dialogues,” programs that include live music and small group conversation to help audiences understand the powerful messages in the book.
The term “cut dead” isn’t a literal death, but instead it is the feeling of emotional, psychological and spiritual isolation experienced by many young African American men who are unacknowledged by society. Ellison says these men are rendered invisible.
“You all represent the circle outside these young men,” Ellison said not only to those up front but also in the standing-room-only crowd. “You are the band of reliable caregivers who have been called to this moment in time to not just hear their stories, but to see them as men with gifts, as men with purpose, as men with a future.”
Ellison describes Fearless Dialogues as “hard, heartfelt conversations between thought leaders that see gifts in people, hear value in stories and work toward change in self and others.” He is leading a series of these dialogues around the country related to Cut Dead’s release. Following his reading, attendees broke into groups of 10-12 where they engaged in their own fearless dialogues, honestly discussing their own perspectives on Cut Dead’s themes.
The small group discussions were not the only distinctive, participatory aspect of the program. A jazz duo greeted the crowd as it filed in and often backed up Ellison as he preached; Candler Dean Jan Love and Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson offered greetings; William Gravely 10T, one of the six young men profiled in Cut Dead, performed a compelling spoken word piece title “Anger”; about a dozen high school students in attendance adjourned to a scholarship academy; and Ellison wrapped up the day by presenting measuring tape to everyone and challenged them, in lieu of changing the world, to “change the three feet around you.”
The event was co-sponsored by Candler School of Theology, Candler’s Black Church Studies Program, the Emory Office of Multicultural Programs and the Emory Center for Community Partnerships.
To read coverage of the event on MSNBC's The Grio, click here.
Ellison also provided commentary to the Associated Press in response to president Obama’s July 19 speech addressing race relations and the Trayvon Martin verdict. You can read the article here.