By Donna Hammond
FB: @DeeLoisSpeaks –
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. offered, “The time is always right to do what is right.” This message has many meanings for Africans in Diaspora, including the need to build communities, educating our people in the sciences, arts and humanities, and the intentionality of embodying what it means to be a leader and builder, particularly in communities where our people live and support one another.
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ for the past 16 years, has engaged in community building, not just in the community surrounding his church, but other communities in the Chicagoland area. He is a pastor, theologian, storyteller, teacher, social justice advocate, community and civil rights activist, with a heart for God’s people. Through his work in and out of the church, he has made a difference in the lives of so many across the City of Chicago and the world.
Dr. Moss shared, “It is important that pastors and ministers not only serve the parish where they are located, but they are also called to minister to the wider community. Every parish church must be committed to ‘seeking the community’s heart’. The work that we have done at Trinity is unique, in that we have attempted to ensure that our internal value system is expressed externally in the community.”
Community Organizing and Development
Community organizing and development are at the forefront of Dr. Moss’ ministry. For example, Trinity UCC was a leader in the renovation of the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, which was threatened with closure. Dr. Moss shared that in talks about the library’s renovation, it was important to community organizers that black contractors were used for the project, returning citizens were hired to work the project, and a sustainable, green design was employed in the development. In addition, Dr. Moss works with Live Free, under the leadership of Rev. Cierra Bates-Chamberlain, and alongside Father Michael Pfleger, Rabbi Seth Limmer, and Pastor Cy Fields to do the work to create an office of gun violence prevention that is not managed by the Chicago Police Department. “Live Free believes that community development that provides viable jobs for those living in our communities stop bullets, and that investing in the communities will decrease the violence rates,” Dr. Moss adds.
Another community project that Dr. Moss has been engaged in on the southside of Chicago which has already began to make a difference in the Black community is the Imani Village, located at 95th and Cottage Grove. He shared that this project involves creating a “cradle to the grave” urban development program, medical center, housing, urban farm, health and wellness, a healing garden, and a possible hotel – all designed and developed by people of African descent and returning citizens. “In the 95th Street Corridor we want renaissance, not gentrification,” Moss stated. Along with Kyle Gardner and Trinity UCC’s Endeleo Institute, he has also engaged in opportunities to purchase and renovate homes in the community and to allow citizens to purchase the homes below market value, so that when they walk into their purchased homes, they walk in the doors with home equity. Other community work also includes a partnership with churches around the city in various zip codes in communities to pay off over $6 million in medical debt via RIP Medical Debt.
Dr. Moss is also passionate about collaborative efforts with community activists who serve as violence interrupters in the nearby Princeton Park and Ivy Homes, Pilsen, and Little Village. “We want to help these violence interrupters do the work they are capable of doing in our communities. We are currently pushing legislators to provide grants for these men to do violence intervention in their own neighborhoods – to go into the community before violence occurs,” he added.
Influencers and Mentors
It is sometimes unusual to find a pastor involved in the uplifting, renovation, and renewal of black communities. However, Dr. Moss has had many influencers and mentors in his life who have not only nurtured his call to ministry, but also supported his leadership over the years. An alumni of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, Moss shared that his influences included his parents, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. and Mrs. Edwina Moss, Dr. Aaron Parker, a Professor of Philosophy at Morehouse, and Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, a Presbyterian preacher during the Antebellum south who preached a radical sermon that reflected his deep commitment to the idea of freedom. Other mentors included his father’s dear friend, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who introduced him to the works of Howard Thurman and William Holmes Borders. These icons gave him a deeper understanding of the philosophy of nonviolence in the Black and Asian traditions. “I had to study world religions to understand the influences around the world of people of color.” It was also an introduction to Dr. Cornel West, who engaged in conversation about Dr. James Cone, Howard Thurman, W.E.B. DuBose. West encouraged Dr. Moss to consider continuing his education to receive a PhD. “Dr. West said ‘You have the arts, activism, and theology…’”
As an influencer and mentor himself, Dr. Moss shared that “every generation needs to discover their purpose. The current millennial generation has been given a blessing and a burden. The blessing of social media is that it connects you. The burden is that it also disconnects at the same time. The millennials will have to navigate that blessing and that burden through resting on the spiritual values of loving yourself, loving the God who made you, and having a deep love for transformation, believing that the way the world looks now doesn’t have to be the picture for your grandchildren. Every generation is given that responsibility. Do what you are called to do in this time space and pass on what you have done to the next generation. That’s all you can do. In the course of time, we will look back and witness the work of people committed to good, the spirit of God, and the possibilities of love and justice, and see how we have shifted this world in a magnificent way. If we allow people in power to write our story, we will always be victims of a script and a film we did not write or produce.”
Social Justice Storyteller
Many times, when we hear the words “social justice,” we think about activists, politicians who work to ensure equal rights for all, fair housing, healthcare, and fight against the injustice of the lynching of blacks across the nation. The arts, such as storytelling, films, and writing, are also methods of social justice.
Dr. Moss’ Unashamed Media Group, a faith-based justice-centered agency, is committed to producing and curating stories to inspire the heart and challenge the mind. As Dr. Moss shared, “While Jesus provided the instruction, he left the ‘how’ up to us. In our age, there are many ways of reaching out and engaging with one another.”
In October, 2020, right before the General Election, Unashamed Media Group released the award-winning short film, Otis’ Dream. Written and executive produced by Dr. Moss, Otis’ Dream tells the story of his grandfather, Otis Moss, Sr.’s journey to vote in 1946. It is a story of determination, faith, and courage in the face of oppression and voter suppression. The film has received several film festival awards, including Best Narrative Short, Best Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Documentary Short, Best Narrative Short, and Best Original Score.
In addition to Otis’ Dream, Dr. Moss has written several sermonic films, including The Cross and the Lynching Tree: A Requiem for Ahmad Arbery and Letter to My Son, which speaks to a Black father’s encouraging and truthful message to his son that speaks to the hatred and acts of racism against Black boys and men.
Dr. Moss noted that Unashamed Media Group has plans in the future to produce more short films about social justice and civil rights issues.
Dr. Moss’ latest book, Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times, is a life-affirming guide to the practical, political, and spiritual challenges of our day. “Dr. Moss instructs how to practice spiritual resistance by combining justice and love.” Since its release, the book has become a best-seller across the nation.