12/06/2013 07:52 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

Assault in Academia: My Meeting at RCA, Part 1

This first appeared on the Rhetoric Race and Religion blog.


I was looking forward to attending the National Communication Association (NCA) conference this year in Washington, D.C. Truthfully, I look forward to the conference every year, because it is my chance to see so many of my friends that I only get to see at conference time. I also like to attend the panels and hear exciting and thought provoking research that lead to the many "panel after the panel" sessions and evening conversations over dinner. Since I started attending NCA -- first as a graduate student at the University of Memphis, and now as an Associate Professor at Memphis Theological Seminary, I have found my times there thoroughly enjoyable. Not that there has not been a problem or two, but the friendships and fellowships outweighed any problem that may have occurred.

While I always look forward to attending NCA, there were two additional reasons for my excitement this year. First, the African-American Communication and Culture Division (AACCD) of NCA awarded me its Outstanding Book Award for 2013. When I heard this news just a couple of weeks before the conference, I was truly thankful and humbled that my peers thought that my work, The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition warranted such a distinction. Reflecting over the years that I have worked examining Bishop Turner, the hours I spent reading material, finishing the dissertation and hammering out the book, I stopped what I was doing at the time, prayed and thanked God.

Second, along with winning the Outstanding Book Award for the AACCD, the Religious Communication Association (RCA) also nominated me to serve as their Second Vice President. Again, I was truly humbled and shocked to receive an email asking me if I would serve. Truthfully, I did not know that members of the group thought that highly of me. I had submitted papers, served as a reviewer and respondent, chaired panels, presented at a couple of pre-conferences and received their Article of the Year Award in 2011 for my article "The Prophetic Persona of James Cone and the Rhetorical Construction of Black Theology." I never, however, imagined serving in a leadership capacity -- especially in one that leads to the presidency of the group. RCA, while not a division of NCA, nonetheless, still have their panels and meetings integrated into the overall program of NCA, and many members who are in RCA are members of NCA as well. Therefore, I thought this was a good fit.

However, a funny thing happened while walking to the meeting. I began to discern that I should withdraw my name from consideration. I did not know why I should do this, because of my earlier excitement about my nomination. Why withdraw now? Would it look as if I did not want to be a part or did not want to serve the organization? I shared this "feeling" with two friends, who walked to the meeting with me, and after some discussion back and forth, I knew that I was going to withdraw my name from consideration.

Then I met Dr. Denise Ferguson. We met before the meeting started and talked about the position, because unknown to me, someone had nominated Dr. Ferguson for the position of Second VP as well. As we talked and shared, I learned she had been with the organization longer than I had, and served in several different capacities -- including the Executive Council. In short, I felt that Dr. Ferguson had put the time in the organization, knew the ins and outs of the group and she was willing to serve. I knew then that I would withdraw my name from consideration -- thinking that my time would come next year or the year after. I understood why I had those feelings of withdrawing my name while walking over to the meeting -- it was Dr. Denise Ferguson's time to serve. I was happy about the decision and about what I was going to do when it was my time to speak.

When it came time for the election, we both had to give a brief speech supporting our candidacies. Dr. Ferguson spoke first, and she might as well have served as my campaign manager! Her speech highlighted why I would be the better candidate. Her speech focused on what she believed I would bring to RCA -- namely the diversity in both my person and scholarship. She told the members of the group that I would make a great Second VP, and it would be good to have me in leadership. In other words, stopping short of withdrawing her name, (in the end, she was still willing to serve) she asked members to seriously support me for the position. Whether it was a campaign strategy or not, she struck a chord with the members who found her speech to be gracious, and an example of humility.

When it was my turn to speak, all I had to do was to accept her recommendation to the body -- to support me. However, when I got up to speak I knew what I had to do -- withdraw my name and allow Dr. Ferguson to serve as our Second VP. After all, I felt I needed to do this. Therefore, as magnanimous as I could with an extemporaneous speech, I said something on the line of this:

I am humbled and truly grateful for your nomination of me for the position of Second VP. When I receive the email asking if I'd be willing to serve if nominated and elected, I saw this as an affirmation of my scholarship, my previous service and frankly, me as a person. Truly, I am honored that you would think of me for this position -- a position that leads to the presidency of this wonderful organization. For you to nominate me -- again, I am thankful and humbled. However, Dr. Denise Ferguson is also up for this position, I got a chance to meet her before the meeting started, and I think she would make an excellent Second VP. Therefore, I am withdrawing my name from consideration and call upon all of us to support Dr. Denise Ferguson for Second VP.

I did it -- I withdrew my name from consideration and threw my support behind Dr. Ferguson. After some discussion about my sincerity in withdrawing my name, members finally understood that I was withdrawing my name and did not want to run. I even mentioned in my speech that I could run next year or the year after, that I was not going anywhere and felt real good about my decision.

After more discussion, the committee finally passed out ballots for our election. There was one other competitive race on the ballot -- that for Councilor. However, right before we were to vote, another member again asked about my withdrawing my name from consideration. As committee members passed out ballots, one member asked was there a way that both of us could serve, because we were so gracious to each other, and very rarely do you see such a gracious response from two people running against one another.

After I restated my position of withdrawing my name again, it happened. Something happened that I could not believe; something happened that shocked me and others who sat near me, something happened that tested who I was or at least thought I was; something happened that I would never ever forget. After I made the statement: "Again, with apologies to the chair and the board, I withdraw my name from consideration," it happened. I was smack upside my head! Yes, you read correctly -- on Friday, November 22, 2013, someone assaulted me -- Dr. Andre E. Johnson -- in an open business meeting of the Religious Communication Association at the 99th Annual Convention of the National Communication Association.

To Be Continued......

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