By Bankole Thompson
Bishop PA Brooks, the First Assistant Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the largest black Christian denomination in the nation and the dean of the faith community in Detroit knows Aretha Franklin very well.
The two were friends. Franklin who died on August 16 at 76 always treated Brooks like the elder statesman he is. She would always check on him.
In fact, a few years ago, when COGIC was marking its centennial existence in Michigan, Franklin sent a $10,000 check to Brooks for the anniversary. Even though she was out of town and could not attend the celebration at Cobo Hall, Franklin made sure Brooks knew she was thinking about him by sending the generous donation.
One of the most cherished photos on Brooks’ office wall is one that features Franklin, former mayor Coleman A. Young and the Rev Jesse Jackson. Now that Franklin has passed, Brooks is reflecting not only on that iconic photo which tells a lot of intriguing stories about Detroit’s long political/faith history, but also about how the Queen of Soul became a tool for those without a voice.
“Aretha represented the common people,” Brooks said Thursday afternoon. “She was the voice of faith for our people. Her songs were songs of liberation and she was the voice of liberation.”
Brooks added, “Who better to be the voice of the poor who have been oppressed? We just love this woman. The great thing about it is that she was a voice that came out of the church.”
Like others have stated in the wake of Franklin’s demise, Brooks, also said that Franklin’s connection to the church is important to highlight in examining her legacy.
“Our race is a race of faith,” Brooks said. “Somewhere along the way we believe that we would be free and that is why many of her songs expressed our strong desire for liberation.”
Her father the late Rev C.L. Franklin, a remarkable Gospel singer and preacher was a close friend of the Rev Martin Luther King Jr., and he led the civil rights march in Detroit in June of 1963, which was the prelude to the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” where King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.
“She was very involved in human rights in Detroit,” Brooks said about Franklin, who grew up watching her father negotiate tough issues regarding the rights of African Americans. She even sang at King’s funeral, a high point for her illustrious musical career.
“If Martin Luther King preached to the soul of America, Aretha Franklin sang to the soul of America,” Brooks said. “She was a jewel who reached every race.”
Brooks, the second in command of COGIC, the only denomination in living history where King gave his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on the eve of his assassination in Memphis in support of poor garbage workers, said Franklin’s legacy of defending the victims of economic inequality should be emulated.
Bankole Thompson is the chair of the Academy of Fellows and Editor-in-Chief of The PuLSE Institute, an independent non-partisan anti-poverty think tank based in Detroit.