Monday, August 20, 2012 at 9:06 a.m.
I did not set out writing last week's feature -- about pastor O'Neal Dozier's connection to a plan hatched by the successor to Desmond Tutu, which just might save Africa -- with the intention of getting Dozier fired.
All I did was try to find out what was going on, and why.
The story centers around a new initiative launched by one of the most influential religious figures in the world -- Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, successor to Desmond Tutu. He appeared in a video address at a public event held at Dozier's church in February, and in person in Jacksonville four months later. Everything we reported about these events was publicly released information, plus the question: how did this all come together?
Because when a closely watched archbishop appoints one pastor and a handful of businessmen across the world to take the reins of his grandest project ("This is our Bethlehem," he said in Jacksonville), it's worth asking how he made those choices.
When a guy in our backyard who's been preaching fierce, unforgiving scripture and reminding us of sin for 27 years is given the opportunity to spread such a plan, we'll want to know why.
And so we asked. But despite the fact they they were holding press conferences and had a PR representative working heavily on the project, the more actual scrutiny rather than boosterism the project got from New Times, the less they seemed to want to reveal.
What were the specifics of this investment plan that could lift up black people and Africans around the world? Please come back later. Why did the archbishop choose a pastor who's been in the headlines for his speech rather than some mild-mannered, diplomatic bishop from his own church? Seems like a reasonable question.
I told Julius Jackson, the project's key businessman, that I was writing about the local Dozier angle, but that I thought we had an opportunity to surprise people with the sheer breadth and possibility of the global project. His response? He sent out an email to everyone involved a couple days later, urging them not to speak to the media about specific people or companies involved, because "it would not edify the archbishop's cause."
Eventually, in a conversation with someone close the the Bafokeng, a tribe that's being held up as a shining example of financial success for indigenous nations, I seemed to be raising concern simply by explaining what had been put out in the open here in Florida. I was trying to gather information about how things worked on the ground in Africa, and assumed the Bafokeng had already vetted their involvements.
It seems they contacted project organizers and voiced concern about my story. I was urged to paint the effort in a positive light. I replied that I would report what I saw and heard at each of the public events, plus the fruit of several interviews.
The story I wrote held up Dozier and the archbishop as vastly different but strangely akin men looking for a legacy. The archbishop lives every day trying to fill the shoes of Desmond Tutu, the man who helped end apartheid and colonial influence. Dozier lives every day trying to shake off the poverty and victimhood of his past, earn money, and live in Christ's image no matter who objects. Both, the conservative and the moderate, the Anglican and the non-denominational, Africa and Florida, were united by an economic development plan that would have been awfully inspiring if anyone had bothered to explain it before they started advertising it.
But an hour after I filed that story, I got a call: Pastor Dozier had left the project. They were looking for a new North American pastor.
We reworked the story, which was now about a man who's "gotten kicked out of pretty much everything I've been in," in his words, seizing an opportunity until people got nervous.
I went into this, back in February, thinking everyone was as sure and proud as Dozier, and as conscientious as the archbishop. Now it seems to me that the only press they wanted was advertising.