Do as I say, not as I do – Voting & Reverend Eugene Rivers

Like countless other people, so-called adults, Reverend Eugene Rivers tells people to do things he doesn’t do.  He talks sh** but doesn’t do all of the sh** he talks about.  He talks a lot and has often been quoted in the press, especially in the Boston Globe.  I used to wonder why he’d been selected as a go-to spokesperson for the black community here in Boston and on about any subject about black people.  As far as I could tell, he didn’t have a sizable congregation or other constituency.

I met him years ago when I worked at Roxbury Community College and saw him a couple of times around the campus.  He wouldn’t’t remember me.

Voting is very important to me and my family.  It is a rite-of-passage.  One of the first things I did shortly after I turned 18 was registering to vote and it was the first thing my daughter and son did on their 18th birthdays.  They are both active voters today in both local and national campaigns in their respective cities.  (The 26th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in March 1971, a few months before I turned 18, and signed into law by President Richard Nixon in July 1971, shortly after I turned 18.  I’d joined protests about lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.  Young men were being drafted into war but weren’t allowed to vote and this made no sense at all!)

So the idea that Reverend Rivers, my contemporary, doesn’t vote and hasn’t voted at least until 1996 caught my eye when it was reported by Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker in yesterday’s paper.

He says vote, but doesn’t by Adrian Walker, columnist, Boston Globe

In fact, for well over a decade he has never voted — even though he enthusiastically endorses candidates and just as eagerly trashes their opponents. Rivers hasn’t cast a ballot since at least 1996. Those endorsements he gave Nick Collins, Hillary Clinton, Golar Richie, among many others? None of them were backed up by an actual vote.

The column goes on to say that Reverend Rivers didn’t vote in the legendary mayoral election of 1983 either, when Mel King ran.

Columnist Walker continues:

Rivers has indicated that he wants to resume voting in November, and I am eager to help him. Your polling place, sir, is located at the Codman Square Technology Center, 450 Washington St., Dorchester. The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Don’t mention it.

Reverend Rivers founded the Ella J. Baker House located at 411 Washington Street, a stone’s throw from his polling place and, as I understand it, a short walk from his home. The Azusa Christian Community, the congregation he also founded which had a ministry for ex-offenders, was also located there. He hasn’t been associated with the Baker House since 2004 when a bigger and more devastating controversy than this voting issue surfaced.  I’m not sure if the Baker House or Azusa Christina Community still operate (neither have a current website that I could find.).

Today’s Globe has an editorial today that points fingers at Reverend Rivers, which is ironic, given that the Globe led the anointing of Reverend Rivers as a spokesperson for the black community by quoting him at every possible turn for damn near anything that had to do with the black community for years.  Their affinity for him helped elevate him to national visibility. (He has appeared on virtually all of the political news shows as a professional “opinionator” – a made-up word that fits.)

This coverage was dismaying to me because, again, in my opinion, Reverend Rivers did not have a congregation or follow of note, although, I’ve read that he had an active and effective street ministry until things got raggedy and his funding was pulled.

How about vetting people before elevating them as spokespeople?  This is not, however, the job of the media.  If you have a loud enough mouth, a facility with words – especially sound-bites, are handsome or well-dressed, and claim to represent the “down-trodden” you, too, can become a media darling. 

Follow the actions not the individual has been my motto as pertains to clergy, activists and other leaders. 

To go back to my original point, I was disheartened to learn that Reverend Rivers hadn’t voted in all these years because it is such an important act to do; it is such an easy thing to do; it is the right thing to do; and because it would have provided more of the photo ops and publicity that it is clear he has craved and cultivated throughout his career.

(Yes, I did vote in the recent mayoral campaign even though I was in Charlotte on family business.  Turned in my absentee ballot well before the deadline.  I wonder if columnist Adrian Walker voted. He didn’t mention it in the article.)

Let me share a little about Ella J. Baker, the activist for whom Reverend Rivers named his organization in Dorchester, and let her have the last word.

After leading school desegregation efforts by the New York NAACP:

In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship. Baker stayed at SCLC for two years although she disagreed with its policy of strong central leadership over grass-roots organization, saying “strong people don’t need strong leaders.”

Strong people lead themselves. Strong people vote.


Fractured Minority Block Defeated Itself by Reverend Eugene Rivers 

Ella J. Baker: Remember a Life Well Lived by Barbara Ransby



About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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