I recently attended a Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) luncheon where the President and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University (HTU), Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, spoke about why HTU matters in our community. This historic black university started educating students in 1875 and predates the University of Texas. HTU primarily educates students who are too poor to afford university tuition.
Dr. Burnette described 400 years of black history in America. The first 250 years were spent in slavery without access to education. The next 100 years were spent under unjust Jim Crow laws with substandard access to education. It is only in the last 50 years that blacks have lived with equal educational opportunities. Blacks have experienced an equal playing field for just one-eighth of America’s immigration history,. She stressed that uplifting poor black students will take time and resources.
Dr. Burnette described two scenarios. The first was for the community to accept that poor blacks will remain poor if they do not succeed in obtaining a college education. Then our community will spend their tax money providing medical care, law enforcement, and child benefits. The second scenario is to provide educational resources that graduates more blacks into professional vocations that serve the community. These first-generation college graduates will mentor the next generation and pay taxes rather than drawing public resources.
Dr. Amy L. Sherman, Senior Fellow and Director at the Sagamore Institute’s Center on Faith in Communities, authored Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2011, pages 16-17). In her introduction, she writes about the Hebrew word, tsaddiqim, which means “righteous.” In Proverbs 11:10, tsaddiqim is used in the context of community: “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.” (NRSV) She quotes Rev. Tim Keller’s sermon, now retired from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City:
“The righteous in the book of Proverbs are by definition those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the community while the wicked are those who put their own economic, social, and personal needs ahead of the needs of the community.”
Dr. Sherman expands on Rev. Keller’s sermon. “As the tsaddiqim prosper, they steward everything – their money, vocational position and expertise, assets, resources, opportunities, education, relationships, social position, entrée and networks – for the common good, for the advancing of God’s justice and shalom. And when the people “at the top” act like this, the whole community cheers. When the righteous prosper, their prosperity makes life better for all.”
Dr. Burnette spoke to a room full of Christian leaders, primarily staff and supporters of TMF. Those listening have prospered and are working for the common good. They are investors in community and understand that all should have access to prosperity. The United Methodist Church is affiliated with Huston-Tillotson University because it believes that all are made in God’s image and when the poor prosper, “the city rejoices.” It is our jobs, as workers for the kingdom, to be tsaddiqim.