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Sunday, May 31, 2015

CINDY MARTIN: A Call for Unity of Vision, Purpose, and Action

"If you want to see results, apply pressure.  If there is a rock that is sticking out of a waterfall and water constantly drips, drips, drips, on that rock, eventually it will loosen up.  If water continues to drip after it loosens, the rock will finally fall....Pressure in even small doses will eventually loosen and topple the biggest rocks, but it must be consistent.  You cannot drip today and turn the faucet off tomorrow.  You have to keep going."  Reverend H.K. Matthews, leader of Pensacola's civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, from Victory After the Fall (page 78).

Editor's Personal Commentary

This guest blogpost from Cindy Martin is an open call for individuals and organizations in Pensacola to set aside past personal grievances, personal agendas, previous organizational frictions, competing visions of the future, jealousy about who is getting how much money, and concerns about who will get credit in the newspapers, in order to strive for the betterment of the Black community in Pensacola and to demonstrate that a movement dedicated to Black Lives Matter can be built and be effective in Pensacola.

This essay is not about one person assuming the lead or being the leader.  In modern social movements, there are multiple leaders, and networks of organizations and groups are in many cases far more effective in acting quickly to changing circumstances than bureaucratic organizations, though the latter can certainly be networked into the movement.

Modern social movements to be effective must have a vision and a narrative that all participants connect with on a personal level, a visceral level, on a moral level, and that narrative must be easily communicated to their membership, the wider community, and the institutional authorities they interact with.  This widely believed and shared narrative allows for actions to be undertaken in concert or separately but always with the aim of achieving the same strategic objective.

In modern political warfare, the best narrative wins.  But, that narrative starts with having a common vision, a common purpose, and a plan for common actions.

Lucinda Martin, a long-time neighborhood activist with a long list of accomplishments and network hub from her Headz Up Beauty Salon, needs no introduction.  From my personal observations, I have seen her admired by many for her selfless service to her local community and dedication to the children of her neighborhood.  She is the salt of the earth that labors on a daily basis not needing recognition and not seeking the spotlight.

This essay is based on various notes she had written to herself and others.  I had to press her daily for weeks to publish her notes as an essay.

This essay, a statement that comes straight from her heart and soul, is brilliant, and is like how she does hair for her clients.  She starts with a vision of how her client's hair should look at the end of the session and then begins planning how to effect that change in a person's hairstyle.

A Call for Unity of Vision, Purpose, and Action by Lucinda Martin

On my trip to Selma for the 50th anniversary commemoration of the bridge crossing we all came together for one common cause.  Being led by Rev. Jesse Jackson from Browns Chapel Church, to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I had the opportunity to march with people whom I had never seen before; we marched with our elbows locked and stayed focused with tunnel vision until we reached our destination. It was an amazing experience!  Again, I believe that we can work together to shift the mindsets and culture of this entire city and make it less violent.  Reverend H.K. Matthews, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, and their followers were not fearful; they were young; and, I bet  they had no idea that they were going to make history.

I have been living in Pensacola, Florida for 25 years.  I thought that this was a calm military, tourist, and retirement city.  I see now that all of the attention and money are directed towards the rich!  I have not seen a change as far as the crime rate, and poverty rate.  Escambia County has the highest juvenile incarceration rate, and Florida leads the nation with the highest juvenile incarceration rate.  We have a lot of work to do!

We got to know that God is walking in faith with us and the different cultures, with different people, and different cities as we are not alone in our dreams to create a peaceful movement.  RELATION BUILDING IS KEY: we have got to approach this process from a perspective and a foundation of a relation grounded in God, grounded in truth, love, compassion and humanity.

What we will be doing will be nothing but great art; an expression of our lives manifesting in its own truth.  We have got to have active community participation.

That’s how I feel when I am creating a hairstyle on every client that sits in my chair.  Idea first, true and solid, then I/we got to see it and feel it.

Each one of us are going to have to play the role of being the Director, Producer, and the Main character of this beautiful script that were going to write.  With God all things are possible!  We are going to have to be thoroughly educated on how to cure this violence which is spreading like a cancer in Escambia County.  We are going to have to attend training sessions, local and far, and share information with the many organizations that will be joining us, which means that everyone will have to take copious notes, and/or have good listening skills.

I cannot emphasize enough that we have got to be excited about what we are doing.  We have to become focused, organized, have the same vision, all looking in the same direction, and become an unstoppable force like Niagara Falls which starts as a stream.

It is going to take many people to shift the consciousness of Escambia County.  But for an issue of this magnitude and for us to be effective, we have got to be committed and compassionate.

Our city/county needs to fund these types of initiatives.  Most cities have (T.D.F.) temporary duty funds.  Everyone who has some teeth in this initative that wants to see or be effective change agents should want to help fund or pay for sponsorship if there are needs for travel/training.  Once our community sees that we are sticking together like glue, then they will take us serious and when can get support.  If we do not ask, we will never know.

There are many high level American institutes, just to name one, Harvard University, that has a conference every year where people get together, think, and collaborate with the world's finest minds from all over the world to try and produce social change through building local social movements.  Sherry Sykes would have loved for us to attend the two-day Conference at the Harvard University.  Sessions of the conference can be viewed on YouTube (see Confronting Violence/Radcliffe Institute, four videos).

Sherry Z. Sykes, a career diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, visited Pensacola on September 15, 2014.  On July 4, 2013, she lost her son Omar Sykes who was robbed and killed outside his Howard University campus in Washington. D.C.  She wants to help shape our city and pave the way for greatness.

The Pensacola Voice interviewed Sherry Sykes, who had come back to Pensacola at the invitation of the National Movement for Civil and Human Rights.  The community gathering was held at the Greater Union Baptist Church.  The last two paragraphs of the Pensacola Voice article demonstrate how it is possible to turn personal tragedy--the loss of a son or daughter to senseless violence--and turn it into action [emphasis added]:

"Her talk was representative of a mother losing her son to violence and committing herself to making a difference by reaching out to others that have experienced the same pain.  She stated that is her first opportunity to speak with other mothers who have lost children. Sykes stated, 'I have been in this alone.  I have not had the chance to talk with other mothers that have lost children.  I have been in this a little over a year now trying to figure this out.'  In a later interview with the Pensacola Voice she added, 'This trip was healing for me to meet with these mothers.'"

"The message she said she wants to leave is that violence is preventable both today and over the long term.  She wants to leave a message of hope.  In terms of next steps she stated that she wants to be responsive to what Pensacola and Escambia County wants her to do for them. She is willing to bring resources back and provide information as she learns it. Sykes said, 'There are any number of possibilities that I can provide.  I am here as a servant.  If there is something people want me to do I am happy to follow through!'"

The Pensacola News Journal interviewed Sylvia Sykes before she spoke at the Greater Union Baptist Church community gathering.  The Journal reported:

"The goal of her visit is to start a dialogue about what citizens what their communities to be like and give them so guidance on how to get there. Sykes said she hopes to meet with parents, children, church and civic leaders to listen to their concerns and 'amplify their cry for help.'"

"'We’ll map out a way forward,' Sykes said.  'Change doesn’t happen in communities until the members of that community put a concerted effort into it.  By concerted effort, I don’t mean just sitting around and talking about it.'"

Sykes said the ultimate goal of the town hall to figure out what actions would have the greatest positive impact the local crime rate and rally local anti-violence resources into one targeted plan of action."

Out of the three cities in the world she wanted to work with, we were fortunate to be one of them.  She's waiting on us!  What are we waiting on?

With the right core group, focused in the same direction, we can effect change throughout the entire city.  If we can get enough like minded citizens to give their all for peace, then we will be that unstoppable force.

It will not  be easy, but we have got to start somewhere.  We, the activists and those who want to become involved have to be trained on how to shift the culture and the mindsets of the entire community to make it less violent.  We are going to have to have the eventual collaboration among law enforcement, county officials, mayors, substance abuse treatment programs, prison ministries, counselors, hospitals etc.

We definitely have to be focused as a team with a great amount of organizational and strategic planning. We can make this happen.  We can start with the few people that we have.  It does not take many people to shift the consciousness, culture, and mindsets of our area because this is a small city.

All we need is enough like minded citizens to give their all for peace, and then we can be an unstoppable force.

To be effective, every team member has got to stay focused on the cause, have the same vision, purpose and understanding as a team with a global perspective, and we have to continue to move forward with an optimistic approach.  We are going to have to take very informative, intense training courses.  When we try to shift the culture of our city, we are going to need a tool chest with the resources to educate us on how to shape and form our city in a way that we need it to be, and to educate us as being community activists on how to create lasting value and a change within our community properly to assist us in our efforts.

We have to be focused as a team with a great amount of organizational political industry; we need a tool chest; everyone needs to gather their tools, get together and educate each other on what we know to be effective so that we can have the power to shape our city in a way that it needs to be.

We can shape Pensacola to be like a GEM, if we all have the same focus, which is curing the violence in our city.  We are not alone in our desire to create a peaceful movement and environment.  We have got to approach this from a multicultural modality approach to establish a peaceful non-violent community.

We have got to understand and use music, education, and all forms of cultural communication.  This problem exists all over the nation.  All we have to do is see what works in other cities, or see what programs that we had previously in Escambia County that collapsed so that we can research and try again.  We do not have time to waste!

With much prayer, and we can shape this little city like a gem.  I believe that our city can be the light of the world, and our little city will shine and be a model to other surrounding areas.  We will be that city on the hill, and we will not be hidden!

What we are trying to do is unprecedented in Pensacola.  We have to endeavor to raise awareness in Escambia County.  Yes, I expect for the devil to come, show up, and show out; this will only be a test for us to be thankful for the opportunity to show the power of our faith.

We have got our marching orders.  Let's get ready, get set, and let's go!

Our country needs to be transformed from the inside out.  Our mission should be profound.  We have got to reach the top and bring as many of our community with us.

We have got to be consistent, motivated, and very meticulous.  We have got to collect foot soldiers one by one.

This will definitely be a movement for peace!  The sky is not the limit; beyond the sky are stars and planets.  We won't be moved!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Escambia County Is Failing Our Students


White elected officials in general, especially those from the conservative Republican Party, are quick to locate the source of any failed Black outcome inside either the Black community, the Black family, or the Black child.

They rarely, if ever, consider that failed outcomes are actually the result of their own failed policies.  Whether these failed policies are based on racist intent, gross incompetence, inadequate knowledge base, or ideological or religious outlook, can be very difficult to determine.

But, the Southern Poverty Law Center's presentation last night at the Fricker Community Center raised two major points: the failure of our Black children in Escambia County is the result of law and Escambia County School Board policies, and, the data documenting that failure takes away the excuse of the inadequate knowledge base.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has brought five lawsuits against school board in Florida.  Four of those school boards are located in northwest Florida--arguably the most conservative area of the state.  And, the worst of the five, indeed, the worst in the state--that honor goes to the Escambia County School Board.

Students, parents, teachers, and the community at large need to be informed and mobilized to decrease the number of arrests of our children in school for misdemeanors, decrease the number of suspensions, and increase the high school graduation rates because, as the old advertisement goes, "a mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Not only is the Black community being shortchanged and damaged, but the failures of the Escambia County School Board's policies affect the economic competitiveness of the county and therefore the overall quality of life for all residents in the county.

For America's Political Elites, Failure Is An Option

Low tolerance and zero tolerance school policies--policies that no adult my age (63) ever grew up under--leads to greater numbers of suspensions and in-school arrests, which places Black children on the path of the school-to-prison pipeline.  This school-to-prison pipeline is only the latest manifestation of elite policies that have worked to weaken the Black community.

America's policy elites have deliberately enacted policies that have significantly destructive effects on Black men, Black families, and Black communities.

Recently, the New York Times published an article and editorial on the 1.5 missing million Black men--missing because of early death or prison.

For every 100 Black women aged 25 to 54, there were just 83 Black men.  For white women, there was parity at 99 white men for every 100 white women.  In the city of Ferguson, there were 60 Black men for every 100 Black women.  The article pointed out that prison accounted for 600,000 missing Black men due to much higher incarceration rates than other demographic groups and 900,000 missing Black men was due to death from homicide, heart disease, respiratory disease, and accidents.  The gap between Black women and Black men does not appear until Black men enter their 20s and 30s.

The article pointed that while the missing men problem has existed since the 1950s, the reasons for the gap has changed.  Mortality rates for Black men have been declining while incarceration rates for Black men have soared since the 1980s.

The New York Times editorial board provided its own analysis of the data.  They opined that the "astounding shortfall in black men translates into lower marriage rates, more out-of-wedlock births, a greater risk of poverty for families and, by extension, less stable communities. The missing men should be a source of concern to political leaders and policy makers everywhere."

The Times also noted that Black communities across America were hit with three waves of devastating elite policies:  "the collapse of the manufacturing and industrial centers, which was quickly followed by the 'war on drugs' and mass imprisonment, which drove up the national prison population more than sevenfold beginning in the 1970s."

In short, political elites, whether in Escambia County, Tallahassee, or Washington, D.C. need look no further than their own failed policies to account for what is wrong in the Black community.

Ecambia County: Failure Is The Preferred Policy Outcome

The Southern Poverty Law Center based in Montgomery, Alabama, and with a field office in Miami, Florida, has been studying Florida's education system for the past four years.  What they believed was a "crisis" in 2011 has become a near catastrophe in 2015 because the statistics keep getting worse--much much worse.  It is not a slight decline, but an escalation in the decline in the quality of education for our Black children.  The statistic that most alarmed the Southern Poverty Law Center was the 127 percent increase in the number of Black students suspended multiple times between 2010 and 2014:  from 9.8 percent to 22.2 percent for Black students and an increase from 2.8 percent to 4.7 percent for white students.

All of the data presented here is taken from the handout distributed by the Southern Poverty Law Center given out at the Fricker Community Center on May 28, 2015.  All of their data is derived either from statistics collected by the Florida Department of Education (FDE) or the Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

In other words, this is data that has been reported by the Escambia County School Board to these organizations.  Ignorance of the data or an inadequate knowledge base is not the excuse for the school board's failures.  No, failure appears to be Escambia County School Board's preferred policy outcome for the Black community.

Bear in mind that Black students are only 35 percent of the total student body in Escambia County.  Thus, if policies were truly color-blind, Black students should only account for 35 percent of the disciplinary problems as well as 35 percent of the positive outcomes.

The data suggest that the Escambia County School Board's policies are not color-blind.  The SPLC pointed out that "Children in Escambia [County] are 32% more likely to be arrested than the rest of Florida.  Black youth are arrested at nearly 4 times the rate of White youth.  This disparity is higher in Escambia than 85% of Florida's counties."

According to the FDE/OCR data presented by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

  • Escambia County has higher suspension rates than 72 percent of all Florida counties, while Florida leads the nation in suspensions;
  • Escambia County's suspension rate exceeds Florida's by 27 percentage points;
  • Florida leads the nation in arrests of students while Escambia County's arrest rate is higher than 80 percent of Florida's counties;
  • Black students account for 65 percent of out-of-school suspensions, 76 percent of school arrests, and 80 percent of expulsions;
  • 92 percent of Disorderly Conduct arrests are of Black students;
  • 73 percent of Black student arrests are for misdemeanors compared to 49 percent for white students;
  • Miami-Dade county, arguably the most violent county in Florida, arrests only 3 minors per 1,000 students while Escambia County arrests 13 minors per 1,000 students--four times more;
  • Only 66 percent of Escambia County's students graduate from high school, while 76 percent is the state-wide average;
  • Less than 50 percent of Black students graduate in Escambia County and at Escambia High School the rate is a dismal 41.7 percent;
  • Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores in Math and Science declined from 2013 to 2014;
  • 69 percent of Florida's school districts tested higher than Escambia County on the FCAT;
  • Only 25 percent of Black tenth graders in Escambia County passed the FCAT compared to 66 percent of white tenth graders;
  • Only 4 percent of Black students are enrolled in Advancement Placement or International Baccalaureate classes compared to 13 percent of white students in Escambia County;
  • Black students are the only demographic group not increasing enrollment in AP/IB programs;
  • Only 2 percent of Black students are enrolled in Dual Enrollment compared to 8 percent of white students, meaning that their high school classes count towards both high school and college;
  • Black students account for 42 percent of Special Education students;
  • Only 12 percent of the teachers in Escambia County are Black and recent data show that the School Board is doing absolutely nothing to address this lack of diversity; and,
  • Less than 1 (one) percent of elementary school teachers are Black men.

Escambia County School Board: The Board of Nyet

In terms of school arrests it should be noted that the Escambia County School Board and the Escambia County Sheriff's Office are engaged in the time-honored bureaucratic game of finger-pointing.  The Sheriff's Office claims its School Resource Officers arrest students at the behest of the school principal.  The School Board claims the School Resource Officers arrest the students at their own initiative.

Who cares?  The finger-pointing is just a bureaucratic ploy to ensure that nothing gets resolved.

The Escambia County School Board, according to the SPLC presentation, has done nothing to examine alternative models utilized across the country that demonstrably reduce school arrests.  For one thing, the School Board could adopt a transparent policy stating which behaviors will result in arrest, expulsion, out-of-school suspension, in-school suspension, and being sent to the principals' office, while making fewer normal adolescent behaviors criminal acts.

Ms. Keyontay Humphries of the Northwest Regional office of the American Civil Liberties Union, an expert in this policy area, is ready, willing, and able to assist the Escambia County School Board in reviewing these alternative models.

But, like a mini-Soviet politburo, the Escambia County School Board and its imperious School Superintendent are unwilling to even meet with the Southern Poverty Law Center and have shown no interest in considering alternative policies that have worked in school districts across the country.

Concluding Observation

Bear in mind that Escambia County is one of the worst counties in America to be a child.  A study by two Harvard University researchers, according to a summary by the New York Times, found that "It’s among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder.  It ranks 47th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 2 percent of counties.  It is relatively worse for poor boys than it is for poor girls.  Although bad for poor children, it is somewhat better for higher-income children."  The researchers used five measures to determine upward social mobility, factors that make Escambia County rank near the very bottom of all counties in America:  "less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households."

According to data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, between 2005 and 2012, the annual number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) recipients in Escambia County rose from 24,169 to 62,195.  From the start of the recession in 2008, it rose from 38,102 to 62,195 in 2012.

According to Sacred Heart Hospital's "2013 Community Health Needs Assessment Summary," in Escambia County the "percent of persons living below the poverty level in Escambia County is 16.4%, higher than the 13.8% rate for the State of Florida.  Median household income for Escambia County is $43,573, more than $4,000 below the state median of $47,661. Nearly 1 in 3 children (28%) in Escambia County live
in poverty, and 51% qualify for the free lunch program."

In its Attachment D, the "Summary of Results--Assessment 2012," Sacred Heart Hospital reported that "Florida ranks in the bottom third of U.S. states in key indexes of health and well-being for residents.  In the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings, through 2011, Florida ranks 33rd among the 50 states, and in the Gallup Healthway Well-Being Index, also through 2011, Florida ranks 42nd.  The fact that a significant number of important health status indicators in Escambia (61%) and Santa Rosa Counties (42%) do not compare favorably to Peers and State results, is unquestionably cause for public concern."

According to the Community Action Program Committee Inc.'s 2014 "Community Needs Assessment," identified "major causes of poverty in Escambia County" (page 13) that could be addressed by better public policy choices:  unemployment, under-employment, the disconnect between costs of living and actual wages, seasonal work due to tourism; an "educational pipeline" that leads to an "an institution of higher learning or a technical certification…to an employed position is needed;" and, "access to affordable child care" which would help reduce incidences of "absenteeism, tardiness, and reduced concentration at work."

The February 2013, Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce report on the "Economic Development Strategy 2013-2018," noted that a robust economy outside of defense and tourism benefited all residents in the county:  "Full employment, economic security, home ownership, the ability to fund quality education, fire and police protection, roads and parks, the increased vibrancy of downtown Pensacola – in sum, a good quality of life – all require a growing economy, good jobs, and a growing tax base."

But, the Chamber of Commerce noted that one of the "game changers" for the county was improving the "deeper skills" of the county's human resources:  "Workforce skills are the most important component of job growth. The region’s workforce (25 years or older) is average in terms of proportion of high school graduates, slightly ahead in terms of
associates degrees, and slightly behind in terms of bachelor’s degrees.  Many local high-growth tech firms report difficulty in hiring for key skilled positions.  The number of area children living in poverty is too high."

High poverty meant that many young people could not afford to attend a technical institute or an institution of higher learning in Escambia County.

Among the factors that would improve the competitiveness of the county, the Chamber of Commerce recommended more "Minority Business Development: Work through the Chamber Minority Business Council to identify the highest-potential MBEs to receive SBDC, SCORE, CIE, and/or Chamber Minority Business Council technical assistance and potential networking relationships with larger Chamber-member

In short, the failures in Escambia County are much more pervasive and not limited to its educational system.  And the failures of the Escambia County School Board affect not only the Black community directly, but the business communities, both white and Black, and all of the residents of the county now and into the future.

Failure of the Escambia County school system is not an option.

It should be evident to elected officials that their policies are failing.  But that appears to be the preferred outcome, especially regarding Black students.  Why?

The Republican Party from the local level to the state level to the national level has long pursued a strategy and policy to destroy teachers' unions and public schools in favor of private-sector schools.  This is a political-religious ideological choice not based on evidence.

It is based on greed.  The billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers who fund the privatization movement smell profits at the expense of a common democratic public school system.  And, the charter school movement is rooted in the white supremacist reaction to U.S. Supreme Court decisions to integrate segregated schools in the 1950s.

Charter schools are not superior to public schools despite all the hoopla and mythology spread by its proponents.

Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes reported (Isaiah Poole based on New York Times) in 2010 that "'a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students.  Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.'"

The conservative Charles Murray (of The Bell Curve infamy) gleefully noted:

"The latest evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the oldest and most extensive system of vouchers and charter schools in America, came out last month, and most advocates of school choice were disheartened by the results.  The evaluation by the School Choice Demonstration Project, a national research group that matched more than 3,000 students from the choice program and from regular public schools, found that pupils in the choice program generally had “achievement growth rates that are comparable” to similar Milwaukee public-school students. This is just one of several evaluations of school choice programs that have failed to show major improvements in test scores, but the size and age of the Milwaukee program, combined with the rigor of the study, make these results hard to explain away."

Scholarly studies suggest that charter schools are both more segregated than traditional public schools and drive public schools to become more segregated.

Charter schools are increasingly linked to financial frauds and ripping off the public--frauds uncovered by whistleblowers and media coverage--not state regulatory audits.

And standardized testing, the offspring of the charter school movement that is used to condemn public school teachers, their unions and their schools, is linked to massive cheating scandals.  Elizabeth Hines reported that the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a non-profit group, "has found documented cases of cheating, and in some cases, systematic manipulation of scores, in 39 states and the District of Columbia, over the last five years alone. The organization has also identified more than 60 methods administrators and teachers have used to alter student scores on these tests, from urging low-scorers to be absent the day of the test, to shouting out and otherwise indicating correct answers during testing."

Why?  Is it because principals and teachers are natural born cheaters?  Are school boards hiring more and more crooks?  No.  It is because the premise that a standardized test score is solely the result of what the teacher teaches in the classroom is absurd--yet their very livelihoods and lives are jeopardized.  A child's test score is the product of many measured and unmeasured variables and is not necessarily a reflection of the teacher's ability to teach.

So, why the deliberate failures exhibited by the Escambia County School Board and its School Superintendent?  They are all either conservative-religious Republicans or some of them simply go along with the majority.  They cannot be easily dismissed from the larger political-religious ideological currents in the Republican Party.  Failure is an option because it brings profits to the backers of the charter school movement and eventually to the private prison system.  Is that their hidden agenda?

Black bodies are monetized and profitized, as they have historically been monetized, for the benefit of the white elite.  And, until the white elite in Escambia County change their policies in ways that benefit Black children, that is the only logical conclusion we can draw from the data.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sheriff Morgan Funding Proselytizing Men's Barn Meeting


According to documentation acquired through a public records request (see end of article), sometime before April 26, 2010, Sheriff Morgan attended a Men's Barn Meeting (MBM) and suggested that the group apply for funding through the county's Law Enforcement Trust Fund.  Again, in April 2014, while Sheriff Morgan and James P. Porter, MBM president, spoke at the National Rifle Association meeting in Indianapolis, it was Sheriff Morgan who suggested that Porter again apply for Law Enforcement Trust Fund money.

Let's be clear once again: the religious beliefs of Sheriff Morgan and the Men's Barn Meeting are not in question here.  The violation of the constitutional separation of church and state, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment's Establishment Clause (1789) and in Article VI (1787) outlawing religious tests for holding office is the issue.

According to its Articles of Incorporation filed with Florida's Secretary of State, Men's Barn Meeting is a "corporation...organized for religious, educational and charitable purposes."  According to its 2008 Form 990 filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service, Men's Barn Meeting described itself as a "church, convention of churches, or association of churches..."  In its 2010 Form 990, James Porter responded to the question, "What is the organization's primary exempt purpose?," with "Promote Christian fellowship to men in Northwest Florida."

Second, I would argue that not only is the Men's Barn Meeting a "church" that "promotes Christian fellowship," a violation of the separation of church and state, but that the organization is not eligible to receive funding from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

According to Florida statute XLVII, Chapter 932, Section 932.755, part (5)(c)1, Law Enforcement Trust Funds "may be used only for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education, or drug prevention programs."  The governing statute says nothing about "promoting Christian fellowship."

Sheriff Morgan Initiates the First Request for Funding

The earliest dated piece of information leading to the issuance of the $2500 Law Enforcement Trust Fund check (10001312) on July 25, 2011, is the April 26, 2010, "LET DONATION REQUEST FORM" for funds requested by Sheriff Morgan.  On July 22, 2011, Finance, Administration, and the Sheriff approved the request.

Below the April 26, 2010, LET form, is an undated request letter sent from "Jim Porter, President, Men's Barn Meeting" to Sheriff Morgan.  The letter begins, "I want to thank you again for honoring us with your attendance at our last Men's Barn Meeting."

The letter states at the start of the third paragraph, "Sheriff Morgan, you mentioned that you would need a copy of our 501 C-3 status letter in order to consider us for any donation....Any donation would be greatly appreciated."

Notice that the president of Men's Barn Meeting is not initiating the request for funds.  That initiation apparently came while Sheriff Morgan was enjoying the Christian fellowship with fellow Christians.  Second, the president of the Men's Barn Meeting does not request a specific amount of funding.  Sheriff Morgan apparently requested the specific amount of $2500.  And, notice that the president of the Men's Barn Meeting did not state that the funds would be used for any purpose consistent with the Florida statute governing the disbursement of Law Enforcement Trust Funds.  On the contrary, Mr. Porter's letter states that the monthly speakers "have shared their stories and challenged the men attending to put their faith and trust in the Lord and let Him change their lives."  In fact, the first $2500 check is not even accompanied by an Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund application.

The first donation thus appears to have been initiated and managed solely by Sheriff Morgan.

Furthermore, Mr. Porter made a misleading, if not false statement, in his letter to Sheriff Morgan.  Porter claimed, "We are not sponsored by any one church..."  That may be true that it is not "sponsored by any one church," but it fails to mention that in its declaration to the federal Internal Revenue Service that it was a "church, convention of churches, or association of churches."

In fact, according to its Articles of Incorporation filed with Florida's Secretary of State, it could only be a church.  Mr. Porter wrote that the Men's Barn Meeting, Inc. was a "corporation...organized for religious...purposes."

One can quibble about whether or not it is a church, but a later section will show that the Men's Barn Meeting draws high-level Baptist and Christian Right speakers from outside Florida--suggesting that it is linked into the Baptist network.

Sheriff Morgan Initiates the Second Request for Funding

On February 9, 2015, Sheriff Morgan released another $2500 donation to the Men's Barn Meeting using voucher number V3352.

This time the Men's Barn Meeting's request for funds is accompanied by a Law Enforcement Trust Fund application in which Mr. Porter checked the blocks for "crime prevention," "drug prevention," "safe neighborhood," and "other consideration."  Seriously?  Giving away a free steak dinner and having men "put their faith and trust in the Lord" counts as complying with the Florida statute?

Mr. Porter also signed his name to the document which included the statement: "As required by Florida law, the requested funds will be used for the purpose specified above, and no other purpose."  How is that even possible when the purpose is to bring men to Jesus?  We shall return to this question in a later section considering how the Men's Barn Meeting is marketed by local area churches and the Porter family themselves.

It is clear that Sheriff Morgan apparently initiated the request for funds while both he and Mr. Porter were attending the National Rifle Association's annual convention in April 2014 which drew 70,000 people to Indianapolis.

According to a fax Mr. Porter sent on December 1, 2014, to "David Morgan" (using the familiar) and Judy in the Sheriff's Office, Mr. Porter wrote, "When I met him at the NRA banquet earlier this year, he said to get in touch with him at his office and remind him about making another donation."  Mr. Porter reminded Judy that "we" (meaning Mr. Porter and Judy) had spoke a "few weeks ago," and that he was "resending the fax I sent back in 2011 (nothing has changed since then but I did resign and redate the form."  Mr. Porter continued, "Do I need to mail in an original of [sic] is this sufficient?"

In other words, at the National Rifle Association meeting, Sheriff Morgan and Mr. Porter met and the good Sheriff asked Mr. Porter to "remind him about making another donation."  Mr. Porter was obviously confused by the necessity of sending in a formal application when the Sheriff obviously asked him to be reminded to send another unsolicited donation.

The Marketing of the Men's Barn Meeting

I suggested above that the Men's Barn Meeting was a "church."  That is basically how the Porter families describes their two entities, Men's Barn Meeting and Trophies of Grace.

For example, on the Twitter page for Men's Barn Meeting, the father, Mr. Jim Porter described himself thusly:  "College of NJ '65; Naval Aviator '65-'73; Real Est. Bkr 40 yrs.; Pres. Men's Barn Meeting & Trophies of Grace, Ministries; Married; 5 children 12 grandchildren."

What does the word "ministry" mean?  Basically, it means the "service, function, or profession of a minister of religion."

Here is how Mr. Scott Porter and Mr. Mark Porter (brothers) described their family's work on the Trophies of Grace website:  "The Men's Barn Meeting and Trophies of Grace ministries are a team effort as well as a family ministry....With Trophies of Grace now taking the Men's Barn Meeting on the road, they enjoy meeting other Christian sportsmen who share a love of God's creation and a desire to see souls saved."

Nowhere in that statement is there anything about "crime prevention," "drug prevention," or "safe neighborhood."  It is about "seeing souls saved."

What exactly is going on with Trophies of Grace, which is merely the act of taking "Men's Barn Meeting on the road"?  It is a full-service ministry.

According to the Porter family on the same webpage:  "Trophies of Grace is a complete program tailored to assist your outreach ministry....We provide a complete promotional package, including flyers, posters and a step-by-step instructional guide to help insure a successful experience at your church.  We can provide the entire program, including music and a speaker, or you can provide the music and/or speaker."

Here is how the Porters describe Trophies of Grace on the "Purpose" page of the website:  "Trophies of Grace exists to glorify God by serving and partnering with pastors and local churches in their outreach ministries, specifically to reach people who are interested in hunting and fishing....our goal is to deliver an interesting, enthusiastic, and clear evangelical message that will inspire Christians and present a salvation opportunity to those who are lost.   Following the event, Trophies of Grace will provide a list of names and contact information of those in attendance, as well as information on those who responded to the message. The local church can then follow up with these individuals and encourage them in their Christian life."

If that is the purpose of the Trophies of Grace, which is merely putting the Men's Barn Meeting on the road, there is not one word that qualifies the Men's Barn Meeting for Law Enforcement Trust Funds.

How do local churches market the Men's Barn Meeting to their congregants?  There is not one word about "drug prevention," "crime prevention," or "safe neighborhood."  Some churches just list the meeting datetime, and place.

The Marcus Pointe Baptist Church, the home church of Mr. Mark Porter, issued this invitation on its website:  "The Men’s Barn Meeting is a place for men to come together, share a meal, fellowship, hear great music and a message from a special speaker.  We meet in a barn in the woods with a beautiful lakeside view.  Meetings are ‘open to the public,’ we welcome all men and boys to come experience The Men’s Barn Meeting."

The First United Methodist Church in Pace's advertisement is quite straightforward:  "YOU are invited to attend the Men’s Barn Meeting held the second Thursday of each month.  We meet at FUMC Pace by 5:40 p.m. and congregate by the church vans.  Free steak dinner and great speakers.  We hope to see you there!"

Dr. Ted Traylor, the lead pastor of Olive Baptist Church and a speaker at the Men's Barn Meeting, exclaimed on his church's website:  "Last night I had a marvelous experience at the Men’s Barn Meeting in Molino. Seven years ago a few men started this ministry. Their vision was to reach men with the Gospel. They meet the second Thursday of each month. A free steak dinner is served and it is a first class meal. The setting is rustic. The big barn is located next to a beautiful lake. I was invited last night to preach to a packed house. Several men prayed to receive Christ. I encourage any man to make the trip to the north end of the county for this event. It is the real deal. Check it out and learn more..."

With the exception of mentioning "saving souls," there is nothing to indicate that the purpose of the Men's Barn Meeting is "crime prevention," "drug prevention," or "safe neighborhood."

Only Sheriff Morgan knows why the Men's Barn Meeting qualifies for Law Enforcement Trust Funds.

Men's Barn Meeting and the Christian Right

I went through the Men's Barn Meeting list of speakers from July 13, 2006 through February 12, 2015.  With the exception of one pastor associated with the Assembly of God, actually the director of the men's and women's center for Teen Challenge International in Pensacola, every identified pastor was from a Baptist church and the real heavyweight speakers came either from the Southern Baptist Convention or the Christian Right's Council for National Policy.

In other words, the Men's Barn Meeting apparently serves as a critical communications and networking hub in northwest Florida, especially in Escambia County.  And, that suggests that Sheriff Morgan's donations to the Men's Barn Meeting, in addition to demonstrating an ideological and/or theological affinity with the Men's Barns Meeting group, is not so subtly cultivating political support from the network of Baptist churches who attend and promote the MBM.

These churches include, in addition to those who advertise the meeting: the Gulf Coast Baptist Church, with its former interim pastor (June 14, 2007); Pastor Irvin Stallworth of the New Life Baptist Church in Century (October 11, 2007); Pastor Ron Lentine of the Myrtle Grove Baptist Church (January 10, 2008); Les Zerbe, an "aviation missionary" that connects "fundamental Baptist and remote ministry locations" in Alaska (February 14, 2008); Paul Ezelle, the volunteer director at the Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama (January 8, 2009); Chris McDaniel, the worship pastor at the Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, Georgia (February 12, 2009); Pastor Ralph Flowers of the Regency Baptist Temple in Jacksonville, Florida (March 12, 2009); Marty Sikes, staff evangelist at the First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas (June 11, 2009); Pastor Nathan Brown of Ray's Chapel Baptist Church in McDavid, Florida (September 10, 2009); Dr. Ted Traylor of the Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola (January 14, 2010); Pastor John Gardner, president of Amazing Grace Mission, a "soul winning Independent Fundamental Baptist Mission (May 13, 2010); Mike Dimmick, director of adult ministries at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola (October 14, 2010); Senior Pastor Gordon Godfrey, Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola (March 10, 2011); Pastor Derek Farr of the Heritage Baptist Church in Roanoke, Alabama (April 14, 2011, and, May 9, 2013); Senior Pastor Carl Gallups, Hickory Hammock Baptist Church in Milton, Florida, a "popular Tea Party speaker and...leadoff speaker at the Daytona Beach Florida State Tea Party Convention in November 2011," as well as being a "Book 'Birther' Expert" and the interviewer who compelled former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack to believe in the birther conspiracy theory (May 10, 2012); Senior Pastor Tim Coleman, Point Baptist Church in Pensacola (November 8, 2012); Dr. Jason Watford, vice president of Bethel Baptist College and pastor of Springs Creek Baptist Church in Seven Springs, North Carolina (July 11, 2013); Mr. Mac Heavener, president and CEO of the Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville, Florida (October 10, 2013); and, Pastor Lonnie Lundy, pastor of evangelism at Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama (February 13, 2014).

The Men's Barn Meeting has also featured top leaders from the Baptist faith and the Christian Right:  Dr. Wendell Kempton, president emeritus of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (September 13, 2007); Pastor Bailey Smith, a "great evangelist" according to the late Jerry Falwell, and the past president simultaneously of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, former president of the Pastor's Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention, and representative for the Southern Baptist Convention to the Baptist World Alliance (May 12, 2011); Mr. Paige Patterson, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (September 13, 2012); and, Mr. Bob Reccord, then executive director of the Christian Right's Council for National Policy, former head of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has the "largest budget" of its "most popular agency," and was one of about 35 to 80 top Christian Right leaders to caucus to influence behind the scenes to defeat President Obama's agenda in 2010 and 2011 (March 14, 2013).

Concluding Observation

Sheriff Morgan's use of the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund to make donations to the Men's Barn Meeting is a clear violation of the First Amendment's separation of church and state.  The Men's Barn Meeting is obviously an organization that serves to recruit men who would not ordinarily attend church using the allure of looking at dead deer heads and a free steak to "come to Christ."

There is nothing wrong with that purpose--it just should not be subsidized with public funds.  The Law Enforcement Trust Fund money is regulated by Florida statute to fund efforts to prevent crime, prevent drug use, and increase neighborhood safety.  That is not even remotely the mission of the Men's Barn Meeting.

It is also clear that the secondary purpose of the Men's Barn Meeting is to serve as a communications and networking hub for the local Baptist churches.  That is evident by the number and frequency of Baptist church pastors serving as keynote speakers at the monthly "free steak dinner" gatherings.

The third apparent function of the Men's Barn Meeting is to serve as a communications and networking hub for the Southern Baptist Convention and the Christian Right.  It is difficult to believe that Pastor Bailey Smith, Mr. Paige Patterson, and Mr. Bob Reccord, all power brokers inside the Christian Right by virtue of their past positions as presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention and/or the Council for National Policy came solely for the fellowship and not the political connections being developed in Escambia County via the Men's Barn Meeting.

For example, Dr. Ted Traylor was an early endorser and proponent of the "Pray for Pensacola" coalition; and, Dr. Traylor is among the elite of Baptist ministers engaged in a current strategic plan, "Engage Florida," which is the next phase of the "ReVision Florida" strategic plan to create a "resurgence" of "grassroots" "spiritual renewal" which always means mobilizing Baptists for political warfare.

Sheriff Morgan's initiation of two $2500 donations to the Men's Barn Meeting may appear benign--just helping out fellow conservative Christian men to come to come to Christ--but it also appears that he is using the Law Enforcement Trust Fund as a political slush fund to gather support for his re-election campaign.

Documentation for the 2011 Men's Barn Meeting Donation

Documentation for the 2015 Men's Barn Meeting Donation

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sheriff Morgan: Lies to Black Community on Videotape


Sheriff David Morgan of Escambia County appears to find numerous ways to insult the Black residents of Pensacola and Escambia County.  When he is not outright insulting them about their embrace of a "thug culture;" or all their young men being "Super Predators;" or illegitimacy being the norm for young Black girls; or all Muslims are "Nazis;" or, that he as a white man with a Welsh ethnic background is personally insulted because Black folks refer to themselves as "African-American," he simply lies to them--on videotape.

On April 15, 2015, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office was sent a public records request asking for data to substantiate Sheriff Morgan's claims that he made in a 2013 video--specifically, that his deputies walked the neighborhoods of Pensacola and that he had an open door policy for Black residents of Pensacola.  The answer the CJ's Street Report received is indicative of the disdain this Sheriff has for the public.

The Montclair Park Meeting

In early 2013, he was interviewed by Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May at a park in the Montclair neighborhood.  The commissioner had used the local meeting to bring about a dozen mothers who had lost their sons to gun violence and with the exception of one murder, had been unsolved and to this day almost all remain unsolved.

Sheriff Morgan appeared at the end of the video suggesting that he had come at the end of the event.  The good Sheriff of Escambia did not meet with any of the mothers.  He did not really speak about the situation the mothers' found themselves in.  The Sheriff did not show one iota of empathy.

What he did do is arrive for a photo opportunity to express in his own smarmy, slick way that he cared about the Black community.

On the video clip, Sheriff Morgan stated the following:

"I pledge as Sheriff of Escambia County that we're here for the long pull.  This is not an Operation Brownsville where you're going to see one of these picnics and then for the next three years you won't see us again.  We encourage our deputies to walk neighborhoods and be in contact.  I have an open door policy as you [Commissioner May] do.  Come and talk to us."

The Escambia County Sheriff's Office Response

On April 15, 2015, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office received a certified letter containing three public records requests.  Only two of the requests are covered in this post.

With regard to Sheriff Morgan's assertion that "We encourage our deputies to walk neighborhoods and be in contact," CJ's Street Report requested the following information:

"The purpose of this Florida statute Title X Chapter 119 request is to receive the following information from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office for the fiscal years (from 01 October to the following 30 September) 2012-2013; 2013-2014; and 2014-2015:

A list with names and badge numbers of officers, dates and times, of Sheriff Deputies who have walked neighborhoods in order to talk to neighbors regarding non-investigative, non-criminal, non-civil legal matters.  Please include the streets these Sheriff Deputies walked and the number of contacts they had with neighbors that were not related to any investigation, or any criminal or civil proceeding or inquiry."

In response, the Sheriff's Public Records office wrote that "there is no such list."

In the 21st century with computers ubiquitous in bureaucracies, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office cannot generate a list of deputies who "walk neighborhoods."  The most logical conclusion to draw is that not a single deputy sheriff has walked a neighborhood to meet folks and have a chat.

The second request the CJ's Street Report sent asked for data to substantiate Sheriff Morgan's claim that "I have an open door policy....Come and talk to us."

The CJ's Street Report request read:

"The purpose of this Florida statute Title X Chapter 119 request is to receive the following information from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office for the fiscal years (from 01 October to the following 30 September) 2012-2013; 2013-2014; and 2014-2015:

A list of the names, organizational affiliation, and dates you have met in your administrative office or at non-public events with persons affiliated with churches, civil rights or human rights organizations, neighborhood watch groups, social welfare organizations, crime prevention groups, drug abuse education/prevention groups, and safe neighborhood groups."

The Public Records office responded that "there is no such list."

How is it possible with computerized calendars and the knowledge that public officials are under scrutiny for whom they meet with that Sheriff Morgan cannot provide a list of people he has met with "in your administrative office" or have met "at non-public events"?

Sheriff Morgan is known to hum a few tunes in Black churches and sing Negro spirituals in order to impress congregants that he cares about Black folks.  Its reported that he has preached in some Black churches.  And when he is not humming, singing, or preaching, he is recognized by the pastor as "Sheriff's in the house."  And yet, he cannot provide a list of persons and organizations with whom he has met with inside and outside his office.

The logical conclusion is that Sheriff Morgan does not want the voters of Escambia County to know who he meets with in his administrative office.  It is a state secret.  That information is verboten or forbidden, or nitchevo nyet meaning not ever.  Sheriff Morgan does not want the voters of Escambia County to know who meets outside his administrative office.  That, too, is a state secret.  For a Sheriff who thinks other states should adopt Florida's public access law, he has a very strange way of showing that he actually supports the law.

Here is proof that Sheriff Morgan will use any excuse not to meet with civil rights leaders who might have the audacity and the chutzpah to actually ask him pointed questions regarding issues directly affecting the Black community.

In May 2015, Mr. Jerry McIntosh, the second vice president and public relations chairman for Movement For Change, an organization that received $1,000 from the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, told a town hall meeting that Sheriff Morgan had refused in January 2014 to meet with the Coalition for Justice of Northwest Florida, an informal group of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, Movement For Change, and the National Movement for Human and Civil Rights, attempting to coordinate their efforts to address violent abuses of local residents by Sheriff deputies.

According to a February 2014 article in the Pensacola News Journal, the Sheriff's Office's General Counsel Gerald Champagne wrote a letter turning down a meeting with the coalition of civil rights organizations and local churches that had been "unveiled to the media in August" that "'the organization is not registered with the Florida Department of State, had no board of directors that he could identify, no founding documents that he could identify and no information on what organizations had agreed to be represented by the coalition.'"  Mr. McIntosh, the coalition's spokesperson, told the newspaper, "'Since when do citizens have to be registered to talk to an elected official?'"

Another prime example of Sheriff Morgan's indifference and disregard for the Black community came on April 25, 2015.  The "Positive Living Event" presented by the New World Believers religious ministry headed by Reverend Rodney Jones, was held at the Western Mark Park across from the Montclair School.  Sheriff Morgan was heard on a local radio station saying that his deputies would be attending the event geared towards children and teenagers.  Not one deputy sheriff showed up at an event that lasted from 1100 to 1600 hours.  Doting mothers who were watching over the hundred or so youth attending were deeply disappointed.  They heard that the deputies had been diverted to another event.  The non-appearance by the deputies is surprising since New World Believers has received funding from Sheriff Morgan's Law Enforcement Trust Fund: $1500 in 2012, $1800 in 2013, and $5000 in 2014.

Concluding Observation

Sheriff Morgan thrives on making assertions about how much he cares and how open he is to meetings with common folks.  He is not.  Sheriff Morgan is all public relations all the time.

He confidently asserts that his deputies walk the neighborhoods of Pensacola to meet-and-greet or grip-and-grin, but he does not mean one word of what he says.  When asked to provide a list of deputies who have walked the neighborhoods, his office responded, "there is no such list."  In other words, he lied.

He confidently asserted that he has an open door policy, but when asked to prove it by providing a list of community leaders he has met with, his office responded that "there is no such list."

There is no such list of who the Sheriff has met with because he does not want the Escambia County public to know who he has met with or not met with.  Surely, only a complete imbecile would believe that the Sheriff cannot generate a computerized list of his meetings with community leaders.

Sheriff Morgan lies openly because that is how he conducts his business.  It is time for the local media and community organizations to begin holding this lying, impression-management-driven Sheriff accountable.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sheriff Morgan Funding Assembly of God Prosletyzing Under Guise of Drug Rehabilitation


The Escambia County Sheriff's Office funding for the Pensacola Men's Center, which is legally part of the Teen Challenge International Inc., presents several problems.  Sheriff Morgan's office is funding a sectarian religious organization whose practices are a danger to those attending the Pensacola Men's Center and a violation of their constitutional right not to be indoctrinated into a faith using public funds.  These problems are as follows:

One, Teen Challenge International Inc. is a "Mission" of the Assembly of God and is bound to that organization's belief system.

Two, its mission to "evangelize" youth in its custody and "initiate the discipleship process" means that its "drug therapy" is actually religious indoctrination in a highly controlled and structured environment which places Christians and non-Christians in a hostile religious environment.

Three, the Assembly of God's position on homosexuality makes it completely unsuitable to provide anti-drug counseling to gay men.

Four, the policy of denying its clients, either those who voluntarily attend or those who are sentenced to the drug treatment program, prescribed medications for psychological illnesses is dangerous to its clients.

Five, the counselors at the Pensacola Men's Center are completely unqualified to provide drug counseling.

And six, the Teen Challenge centers and the testimony of Pensacola Men's Center "counselors" make it clear that religious indoctrination and recruitment into the Assembly of God is the main, if not sole purpose, for the Pensacola Men's Center.

Referenced Documents for Quick Access:

2008 Teen Challenge Best Practices Manual

1995 Teen Challenge Articles of Incorporation, Florida

2014 ECSO Check $2000 to Teen Challenge

2015 ECSO Check $2500 to Teen Challenge

2014 Teen Challenge Intl USA Form 990 to IRS

2013 Teen Challenge Florida Form 990 to IRS

The Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund (ECLETF)

It is probably fair to assume that most residents of Escambia County are unfamiliar with the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund or ECLETF.  The statute establishing procedures for the "disposition of liens and forfeited property"--the actual source of the funds--is governed by Florida statute 932.7055.  Under this statute, the Board of the County Commissioners establishes that the funds can "only be used for school resource officer, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education, or drug prevention programs."  The funds are disbursed "upon request by the sheriff to the board of county commissioners."

For Fiscal Year 2014, which ran from October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014, the Board of County Commissioners and the Sheriff's Office disbursed $279,842 to community organizations, according to documents obtained by CJ's Street Report through a public records request.

Funding for the Pensacola's Men Center or Teen Challenge between 2011 and May 15, 2015, totals $10,500.  A review of the Sheriff's Office records demonstrates that funding for the organization, with the exception of one year has been escalating: 2011: $500; 2012: $800; 2013: $4,200; 2014: $2,500; and, as of May 15, 2015: $2,500.

Teen Challenge International, Inc., Employer Identification Number 59-3302759, which is registered in the state of Florida, reported to the federal Internal Revenue Service on its Form 990 that between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013, it received $2.154 million dollars in contributions and had net assets of $341,186.  For the year, it operated at a budget deficit of just under $9,000.

The Real Purpose of Teen Challenge International, Inc.

Teen Challenge International, Inc. the parent of the Pensacola Men's Center, is a religious organization.  According to its 1999 "Articles of Amendment to Articles of Incorporation" filed with Florida's Secretary of State, the organization was "only" changing its name from "Teen Challenge International Fellowship, Inc." to "Teen Challenge International, Inc."  In other words, its purpose had not changed.  The name change was cosmetic.

According to its 1995 filing with Florida's Secretary of State of the "Articles of Incorporation of Teen Challenge International Fellowship, Inc.," "Article III Purpose" stated unequivocally that "Teen Challenge centers are all 501(c)(3) organizations situated throughout the United States and abroad whose purpose can be generally described as follows:

'to evangelize people who have life-controlling problems and initiate the discipleship process to the point where the student can function as a Christian in society applying spiritually motivated Biblical principles to relationships in family, local church, chosen vocation, and the community.  Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive.'"

According to Teen Challenge International USA, Inc.'s 2014 Form 990 filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service, the purpose is to "provide youth, adult and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society by applying biblical principals [sic]."

Direct Link to the Assembly of God

Teen Challenge International USA, Inc., the parent of Teen Challenge International, Inc. operating in Florida, is a mission of the Assembly of God.

According to the Assembly of God website listing its missions, Teen Challenge International USA, is one of seven missions.  The Teen Challenge International USA, Inc. link takes you directly to its link.  Put in Pensacola, Florida, USA, to find a local center and you are taken directly to a map on which the Pensacola Men's Center, Teen Challenge International is shown.  Click on the center and the link to its website and you are taken directly to Pensacola Men's Center, Teen Challenge International.

In 2008, Teen Challenge USA, wrote a "Best Practices" manual.  The manual clearly states that all local Teen Challenges have a contractual relationship with the Assembly of God.  According to the manual (page 1), "National Teen Challenge Inc. was created in 1984 and has evolved over the years to (1) be a liaison between the AG and Teen Challenge programs, (2) function as an accreditation office, (3) own the ‘Teen Challenge’ name and logo, (3) promote and represent TC on a national level, (4) maintain a national website, (5) function as a hub for referrals and donations, (6) own, update and sell the TC curriculum, and (6) provide vision and overall support for the TC programs.  Although TCUSA currently exists as an independent corporation, it is also one of the six departments under AG US Missions.  Every TC program in the U.S. exists as an autonomous, non-profit corporation as well.  Similar to a franchise, they agree to comply with national accreditation standards, pay a monthly fee, and sign an Affiliation Agreement with TCUSA in order to use the ‘Teen Challenge’ name."

Each of the five chapters regarding how to run a Teen Challenge center begins with a "theological foundation": organizational structure, financial management, compensation, fundraising, and conflict resolution.

Evangelizing Youth During Drug Rehabilitation

We have already seen that the "purpose" of the Teen Challenge International Fellowship, Inc., which is also the purpose of Teen Challenge International, Inc., is to "evangelize" and apply "spiritually motivated Biblical principles" in order to make those suffering from substance abuse "spiritually alive."

On the homepage of the Pensacola Men's Center, they declare that that "We are a highly structured and disciplined Christian discipleship program that helps men build integrity, character, strong family values, and dedication to church and community."

On the webpage describing the program, they categorically state, "This Christian-based discipleship program is both highly structured and highly disciplined, and is designed to help prepare a student to stand on his own feet after completion of the program.  Christian principles are the foundation of the ministry, and are taught and shared daily with the students."

Notice that it is not a drug rehabilitation program, but a "ministry" using a "discipleship program" based on "Christian principles."

The same webpage for the Pensacola Men's Center states that some of their clients "enter voluntarily" "while others are court ordered."

In other words, youth or adult offenders for drug-related crimes sentenced to the Pensacola Men's Center, a program that lasts typically "12 months in length but may be longer based on the individual and the amount of aftercare needed," are going to subjected to religious indoctrination as part of the program.

The emphasis upon "coming to Jesus" is also evident in the testimonies of staff at the Pensacola Men's Center in their inducement to young men to join them.

Scott Lipinksy, the center's program manager, "firmly believes that if God was able to change his wretched life through Teen Challenge, then anyone has a chance to be saved and healed from destruction."

Chris McKinney, the education coordinator, "just wants to give back to the same program that God used to save his life by helping others receive the freedom that he now has through Jesus Christ."

Pastor Bud South, the assistant pastor at the Warrington Assembly of God church, "assists in the spiritual development of the student body."

Roger Hughes, the Emerging Leader's Representative, "feels called to give back to the ministry that gave so much to him."

Chaplain Brian Eskelinen, a mentor, "lives and believes that there is not a man or woman alive beyond the delivering power and hope of Christ."

Matt Mitchell, a mentor, "serves as the worship Leader and mentor at Pensacola Teen Challenge" and "serves as a worship leader at Pensacola House of Prayer."  The Pensacola House of Prayer is formally linked to the Kansas City-based International House of Prayer.

While much more will be written about the Pensacola House of Prayer in the context of the larger Pensacola-based coalition, Pray for Pensacola, suffice here to say the model of the International House of Prayer is twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week perpetual prayer combined with fasting.  The International House of Prayer is linked to The Call, run by Lou Engle, which is a major group opposed to same-sex marriage and Islam.

Rhome Smith, another mentor at the Pensacola Men's Center, "desire is to see students succeed in building a long and lasting relationship with their Lord Jesus Christ."

Martin Tate, the office administrator for the men's and women's centers, is the "worship leader at [the] Family Worship Center in Pensacola."  Actually, that is the fictitious business name of the Faith Temple Assembly of God on West Nine Mile Road.

Angie Wade, the administrative assistant, spends her free time at the Women's Center and "her vision [is] that each of the women in the program understand that whatever they’ve done, His blood has covered them and if they surrender all to Jesus He will do much more than just repair the damage.  He will restore what was lost..."

The Assembly of God on Homosexuality, Demons, and Medications

In 1979, the General Council of the Assemblies of God, approved a position paper ("statement") on "Homosexual Conduct."   Citing scripture, the AoG statement claimed that "Homosexuality is both a sin against God and mankind. It runs contrary to the divine plan, purpose, and will of God who created us in His image....Most fundamentally, homosexuality is sin because it perverts the created order of human sexuality, the heterosexual fulfillment of both man and woman."

Under the Assembly of God webpage for "Position Papers," is a paper on "Homosexuality, Marriage, and Sexual Identity."  Given the amount and consequences of advocacy for LGBTQ rights, as well as shifts in scientific understandings of homosexuality and sexuality that had occurred between 1979 and 2014, when the position paper was adopted by the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, the Assembly of God declared: "We believe, in light of biblical revelation, that the growing cultural acceptance of homosexual identity and behavior (male and female), same-sex marriage, and efforts to change one’s biological sexual identity are all symptomatic of a broader spiritual disorder that threatens the family, the government, and the church."

In other words, nothing had changed for the Assembly of God between 1979 and 2014.  This is especially clear considering that it repeated its 1979 statement: "Homosexual behavior is sin because it is contrary to God’s created order for the family and human relationships."

Indeed, Teen Challenge USA "hosts ex-gay speakers around the country." 

In 2011, James Voss, a gay man, published an account of his being sentenced to Teen Challenge when he was 24-years old in 2007.  Voss, a youth pastor and graduate of "'Christ-centered Pentecostal'" North Central University in Michigan, chose to go to the Western Michigan Teen Challenge rather than be sentenced for driving under the influence.  In the four months that he stayed at Teen Challenge, he lived under the rules of a handbook with "111 rules and guidelines...designed to put program participants in submission to the program's leaders who supposedly were anointed by God and spoke with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit."  Proof of their anointment was "the ability to speak in tongues."

Voss wrote that individuals with "psychological problems were often not allowed to take medications prescribed by doctors since there was a ban on any medication that had any affect on the brain."  Daily life consisted of "chapel, bible classes, work duty, and two hours of praying on your knees."  In fact, Voss took three Bible classes per day.  Learning was reduced to "rote memorization."  Attendees were isolated from the outside world and monitored.  Voss wrote that "all conversations are monitored for ungodliness, all mail is read, and phone conversations are limited to five minutes every two weeks."  All of the regimentation and monitoring was to achieve one of the "stated program reprogram or recondition the mind."

Voss suggested that "the overall program is quite harmful to those who participate, particularly LGBT people.  The LGBT Community needs to watch out for programs like Teen Challenge and remember that it a massive organization with over 223 centers in North America with the capacity to sleep over 7,536 people, according to its website."

But, Voss is not the only person to write about his traumatic experience at Teen Challenge.  In fact, there are numerous websites dedicated to former attendees sharing their experiences.

Maia Szalavitz, who monitors abusive medical treatments, noted that Teen Challenges' ban on medications to treat mental illness is "not exactly evidence-based practice" and "since there are medications that can help treat particular addictions, this is even more absurd."

Szalavitz wrote an article for Time magazine published on November 13, 2012, in which she reported on abuses uncovered by the Tampa Bay Times at the Gateway Christian Military Academy which is "part of a national organization called Teen Challenge, which has a history of abusive practices carried out in the name of religion. For decades, Teen Challenge has run afoul of states with stricter oversight of youth facilities for some of its practices."

Szalavitz quoted from the Tampa Bay story about the severe psychological and physical torture suffered by 15-year old Samson Lehman--torture that reads as if it was produced at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo:

"'They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark. Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more. The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run.  The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness. So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal. By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.'"  The boy required months of expensive dialysis treatment to recover.

Compounding the severity of the torture, Szalavitz reported that the Gateway Christian Military Academy, part of the Teen Challenge International, Inc., was a member of the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies.  This means that the "religious exemption protects the programs from inspections by the state’s department of children and families, which means students can be imprisoned or shackled and, unlike with licensed youth programs, can be denied contact with their parents and prevented from accessing child-abuse hotlines.  Regulatory authority over these religious programs lies almost entirely in the hands of the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies (FACCA).  And these programs flourish in other states as well, since no national regulations exist to oversee such facilities for teens."

Teen Challenge International, Inc. is not currently a member of FACCA.  It is not clear when its membership may have ended, if it was a member.

And, there is a growing number of articles detailing abusive practices at Teen Challenge centers.  The pseudonymous DogEmperor, a woman who escaped from an abusive church, published a series of articles based on extensive research regarding abuses at Teen Challenge centers with links to other websites dedicated to exposing Teen Challenge abuses.  Many of her findings from various Teen Centers located around the country would be corroborated by or consistent with the account later given by James Voss.  Essentially, the rigid structure, religious indoctrination ("spiritual abuse"), coercive tactics, the lack of trained staff, and the lack of outside regulatory oversight make Teen Center essentially a "'Jesus Gulag.'"

Bruce Wilson, the co-founder of the progressive religious website Talk to Action, conducted extensive research on the "growing trend of exorcism on the evangelical right."  He reported that the director and assistant director of a Colorado-based Teen Challenge center reported that "demon possession is a common issue with life-controlling problems."  The assistant director stated that the problem of demon possession is "very common."  One year later, Wilson reported that though it is "downplayed and covered up, the ‘reparative therapy’ approach typically includes room for casting out ‘gay demons.'"  The Teen Challenge National Conference in 1996 had a session on "demon possession and deliverance."  The videotaped presentation is still available on an Assembly of God website.

Wilson also reported on Brandon Barthrop, a 2001 graduate of the Minnesota Teen Challenge center who heads his own inner-city ministry.  According to a post on Barthrop's ministry's website, Barthrop credited his recovery to exorcisms:  "'I'm sure I was completely demonized my whole life until I got born in heaven in October 1999 when I was court-ordered to Minnesota Teen Challenge for drugs. I was completely strung out on all kinds of drugs.  I was permi-fried from acid, and lived in a continual LCD trip. Tracers, shadows, and darkness abounded. I began manifesting demons nearly immediately after entering into the Teen Challenge program, and a lot of demons were cast out over a three month period. Everything afterward became much brighter spiritually and physically.  I was told I was the worst case they had ever seen in Minnesota Teen Challenge history'" [emphasis by Wilson].

Unqualified Staff at Pensacola Men's Center

Teen Challenge USA boasts, as does its local franchise, the Pensacola Men's Center, that "research done through the years on the graduates of Teen Challenge suggest as much as 86% of those graduates are living a life free from addiction, are attending church, and are employed."

But, this statistic, based on a small-sample study conducted in 1975, is nothing but pseudo-scientific hot air.

DogEmperor cited "Bill McColl, executive director of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, [who] dismisses both the statistic and the study.  He states that the study was done too long ago and conducted with an extraordinarily small sample group. This leads us to believe that this study has almost no statistical validity."

Dr. Janet Parker who writes at the Medical Whistleblower website noted that the 86 percent success rate came from a study of youth in Pennsylvania who had graduated in 1968 and were studied in 1975.  Parker also cited Bill McColl who had dismissed the study as irrelevant.

However, another study of Teen Challenge claiming a 75 percent success rate conducted by Wilder Research in 2011 is just as irrelevant.  Wilder's study was drawn from 315 people who had graduated from the Minnesota Teen Challenge between 2007 and 2009, consisting of 66 percent adult men, 23 percent adult women, and 11 percent.  Sallie Jo Sorenson writing at the Bluestem Prairie website for news about Minnesota, noted that the study was actually conducted on 154  of those persons one-year after graduating.  Of 154 people in the study's sample, only ten percent were boys (6 percent) and girls (4 percent).  The sobriety levels for those 15 or 16 teenagers were lower than the 75 percent.  But, a sample size of 15 teenagers cannot be generalized.  It is irrelevant.

Indeed, the Pensacola Men's Center itself offers no claim that its program for youth between 12- and 17-years old is effective.  According to its own website, though "the programs for adolescents ages 12 to 17 have not been formally researched, we have seen antidotal evidence of lives being transformed."

In other words, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that any money spent by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office on youth for substance abuse recovery at the Pensacola Men's Center is money well spent.  In fact, it is probably wasted funds that could be better spent on improving conditions in the poorest neighborhoods in Pensacola.

Which leads to the question of the qualifications of the staff at the Pensacola Men's Center.  Aside from their religious motivations to bring people to Jesus, the only qualifications they have are: (1) they are almost all former substance abusers, (2) virtually all of them graduated from the Teen Challenge program, and (3) a good portion of them have taken some follow-on training in the Emerging Leadership Program also conducted by Teen Challenge.

Only one person has anything approaching a certificate, Scott Lipinsky.  Lipinsky has a certificate from an Internet company, Net Institute, in "Restoration Ministry for Counseling and Addiction."  However, I searched every online course provided by Net Institute and could not find a course of study called "Restoration Ministry for Counseling and Addiction."  Even so, Lipinsky is not a counselor at Pensacola Men's Center; he's the program manager.

In other words, the personnel at Pensacola Men's Center have no formal academic training from any accredited college or university for treating substance abuse.  They have not worked in the field with a practitioner independent of Teen Challenge or the Assembly of God.  They have no certificate or accreditation from any state agency regarding treatment for substance abuse.  The only thing they are qualified to do is follow Assembly of God doctrine on theological matters and give the party line from Teen Challenge USA as specified in the Best Practices manual and other directives and guidance. 

Concluding Observation

Let me be clear: the Assembly of God and Teen Challenge International, Inc. are entitled to hold whatever religious beliefs they hold and to practice their faith in the manner they choose to practice it.  Those religious beliefs are not being questioned here.

On the other hand, I do not believe that Escambia County youth should be sentenced to attend the Teen Challenge Center in Pensacola and I do not believe the Escambia County Sheriff's Office should be funding Teen Challenge International, Inc.

The Pensacola Men's Center or Teen Challenge International in Pensacola is a religious ministry masquerading as a substance abuse recovery center.  There is no scientific basis for its claims that it has any degree of success in returning individuals, adult or juvenile, to a productive life.  The personnel at the Pensacola Men's Center have no qualifications to engage in any kind of counseling for substance abuse.  The Pensacola Men's Center, following the guidelines and best practices established by Teen Challenge USA, a religious mission of the Assembly of God, is, in its own words, "a highly structured and disciplined Christian discipleship program."

Any court in District 1 assigning or sentencing a person to the Pensacola Men's Center is essentially placing that individual in a Christian prison where the daily routine amounts to psychological torture--especially if they are not "Christian."  A gay prisoner would be subjected to months of religious indoctrination that could be characterized as psychological torture.  There is Teen Challenge International testimony before the U.S. Congress of Jews being converted in Teen Challenge centers or otherwise denigrated while incarcerated there.

Sheriff Morgan is using funds that could be better spent in the poorest neighborhoods and communities of Pensacola and Escambia County to fund a religious ministry that functions to recruit vulnerable youths and young men into the Assembly of God.  If that is not a violation of the separation of church and state, nothing is.

But, as we proceed to examine the funding patterns of Sheriff Morgan and the Escambia County Law Enforcement Trust Fund, two facts will stand out:  amidst the good spending on many worthwhile projects that benefit the residents of Escambia County, Sheriff Morgan manages to funnel money to church groups linked to the Pray for Pensacola coalition and other proselytizing religious groups, and, well off groups with large amounts of assets receive huge payments for their operating expenses.