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On Friday morning at the annual fall conference of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), a young Korean American woman, Susie Kook, introduces a Perkins Fellow who has spent the summer working with John Perkins in Jackson, Mississippi. Kook assures the large, multiracial audience that conference authorities have okayed the following act, which intends no disrespect.

Christian Vance, a young African American, proceeds to give a dead-on parody of the address Perkins has just finished, using his stuttering, rat-a-tat delivery. "I d-d-d-don't j-j-just HAPpen to be b-b-black. You see what I mean? My m-m-mother is BLACK. M-m-m-my FATHER is b-b-black. You see what I mean? My c-c-c-COFfee is black. So I am B-B-B-BLACK!"

A relaxed ripple of laughter runs through the audience. It is no big deal to make fun of the CCDA founder. In fact, it shows how this gathering views the man some call "Grandpa." More than respected, he is loved. Perkins and his wife, Vera Mae, have eight children of their own, but this gathering is his extended family and his legacy.

CCDA is an association, not an organization. It is composed of evangelicals involved in inner-city ministry to the poor. Like a trade association, a common interest—not institutional connections—links these people.

Nearly 2,000 have come to Philadelphia for networking and encouragement. Most are young and white, with a sizeable component of African Americans and smaller leavenings of Asians and Hispanics. The atmosphere is consistently friendly and stress-free—stylistically moderate, even though the work they do is radical.

"This is an organization with a single purpose," Perkins said earlier Friday morning for his daily Bible study. "Single purpose! Single ...

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Grandpa John
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In the Magazine

March 2007

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