When it comes to delivering a powerful message through song, Kirk Franklin knows how to consume the mind, body and spirit. The award-winning gospel sensation is now lending his name and voice to The American Stroke Association and American Heart Association’s Power to End Stroke Movement with the June kickoff of the Fight of Our Life Health Tour. Franklin hopes to raise awareness and educate African-Americans about strokes, the third leading cause of death and a long-term disability in the Black community. ESSENCE.com had a heart-to-heart with Franklin.
ESSENCE.COM: So, Mr. Franklin, we’re happy that you’re inspiring the Black and faith-based community to be more health conscious as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. How’s it going?
KIRK FRANKLIN: It’s an honor for me to tackle physical fitness and have the American Heart Association ask me to be a part of their lifelong initiatives. It’s definitely a good marriage because my music talks about caring for the soul, but God is about the body, mind and soul.
ESSENCE.COM: Amen to that! You’re also physically fit and in the gym now. Sometimes it’s harder for our elders to change bad habits. How have they received your message?
FRANKLIN: That’s why I’m doing this—I wanted to see the elders stick around long enough so that the younger generations can receive and benefit from their knowledge. Overall I think they’ve been more than receptive. It’s not about beating them over the head with the information but just having a conversation that reminds them of the benefits of staying healthy.
ESSENCE.COM: Often gospel artists and Christians are judged more harshly than others by the faith community. What reality check would you like to give the world about Christians?
FRANKLIN: People always think that Christians don’t have a swag but we do. And just to be clear, it isn’t a Christian swag, but just a swag, period. That’s the biggest mistake folks make about Christians—they think everything we do is different from what they do when all we try to do is live according to the word. They almost want to make Christians out to be aliens (laughs). Of course we might not be able to party like we used to or hang out at a bar and pop a bottle. Instead, we dance the Holy ghost and pop a scripture.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs) How do you think intolerance adds to the sometimes overt homophobia in the church?
FRANKLIN: For some people in the church community, as well as the African-American community, being vulnerable and transparent in who we [inherently] are makes folks uneasy. We’re more comfortable seeing people get exposed rather than those same individuals telling on themselves or being proud of who they are because it makes us question what do I do with my secrets? It’s one of the things I experienced when I began to speak openly about my addiction to porn. It was empowering for me to acknowledge but awkward for some who knew me that still encouraged and supported me for my courage while others disapproved. Again, it’s a lot more easier for peopel to accept someone being busted or people whispering about their personal lives than dealing with the problem head on and as a result the silence breeds a level of intolerance.
ESSENCE.COM: Well, as a child you’ve spoken candidly about the level of intolerance you suffered because of your stature?
FRANKLIN: (Laughs.) I’ve been talked about all my life. As a kid, I was laughed at because I was short and so much smaller than everyone else. I wasn’t good in sports, I was dark-skinned (back then it was all about having the El Debarge look) I was a “church boy” and I didn’t have a girl. It’s as if I had every negative strike against me and I wasn’t getting any love back then. As a result, I became a rebel and started acting out until I came back to the church where I belonged. Now, I’m happy to be the church man that I am (laughs), and I finally got the pretty girl whom I’ve been happily married to for 13 years. God always has a way of bringing you back to him and working everything out.