As we remember civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and turn our attention to President Barack Obama as he gives the State of the Union address, we also highlight leaders of the Keys’ African American community. Just one year ago, Pastor Sinclair Forbes moved to the island to become the leader of the historical Bethel AME Church on Truman Avenue. Since his arrival, the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is more of a reality, but there are still strives to be made to transform the nation into an “oasis of freedom and justice,” from the “heat of injustice and oppression.”
“I always had to be twice as right,” Pastor Sinclair Forbes recollects his days as the only African American male placed in advanced and honor classes at his high school in Pensacola, Florida. “I was the only minority in my classes. I was the only African American.”
Pastor Forbes, who leads the Bethel AME Church, notes how, growing up, he always felt he had two strikes against him. Rather than succumb to the racial barriers, Forbes instead surrounded himself with successful and positive influences form the African American community. He attended church with the sister of four-star General Daniel “Chappie” James and also found himself in the company of Dr. Thomas James, the first colored, Navy officer. Family came first, and Sinclair was in a long line of highly educated family members. He attended the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta after sensing a calling to give back to his community.
“The older church men really tool the time with me,” Pastor Forbes recalls. “I owed it to God to be obedient to his word which is not easy; but certainly, something I was called to do.”
Thought the nation is leaps and bounds closer to being lifted from the “quick sands of racial injustice,” with the election of Obama as our nation’s first African American president, Pastor Forbes is facing the uncertainty of the nation’s economic state through the needs of his congregation. He notes people coming in with financial crisis and mental crisis, giving a face to the “lonely island of poverty in a sea of prosperity,” as outlined by Dr. King in his speech.
“There are a lot of hurting members of our community, especially in the Bahama Village community. People hit me up all of the time for money. They are deciding whether to pay this bill, or this one, or support their church, or keep their lights on,” he attests.
Instead, of parishioners becoming excited about the power of prayer, they instead are holding their leader accountable for the economic restraints. Forbes is awaiting more change, the change President Obama spoke about during his campaign.
He cites a swooping overhaul needs to happen in healthcare, and now that the Bush regime is over, the government should begin funding social programs more adequately.
“Time has come for us to come together and pray, and spend with fiscal responsibility. We still need transparency in local and federal government.”
A reminder from Pastor Forbes, too, about the significance of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Do not use the day to take “off.” Instead, do something for the betterment of your community.
“This is a day to rejoice and give thanks to working individuals. Do something positive, which is what the King would have us do. Clean someone’s yard, take someone to the doctor, we owe it to Dr. King to do that,” he urges.
For the Keys to become more of an outreach community, he says the example and actions need to start with the ministers and community leaders. Pastor Forbes’ services can be attended every Sunday morning at 10:30 am and Tuesday nights at 7 pm.
“I came to the Keys two days after President Obama was elected. I was part of that process, and I believe in time we will have even greater hope in the dreams outlined by the King back in 1963.”